Protect the Antarctic

The frozen southern pole is a haven for wildlife. Whales, seals and penguins feast in the Antarctic’s southern ocean and international agreements protect the icy continent. But commercial fishing and climate change pose a threat. So we need to create a giant ocean sanctuary, the biggest on Earth, to protect the Antarctic.


Despite being the coldest region on the planet, the Antarctic supports a huge array of life. Whales migrate thousands of miles to gorge on swarms of tiny krill. The seafloor is home to creatures like corals and sea stars, with new species discovered on a regular basis. Huge colonies of penguins breed on land and hunt in the sea, surviving the dark Antarctic winters by huddling together.

This remote part of the world already has some protection and Greenpeace has played a big part in that. The Antarctic Treaty made the continent off-limits to military activity, but said nothing about oil drilling or mining. In the 1980s, Greenpeace campaigned to create ‘World Park Antarctica’, even setting up a scientific base. We won, and in 1991 the continent of Antarctica was protected from exploitation.

There are also protected areas at sea. The Ross Sea Marine Protected Area is the largest ocean sanctuary in the world. But over the last few years, international talks have stalled and huge areas of the Antarctic Ocean are still unprotected. 

Melting ice and disappearing krill

As in the Arctic, climate change is having a greater impact on the Antarctic than other parts of the world. The southern latitudes are warming three times faster than elsewhere and glaciers are melting faster than they form, raising global sea levels. Less sea ice means penguins have to swim further to find food. 

Antarctic questions answered

What does climate change mean for the Antarctic?

The Antarctic is warming three times faster than other regions. Discover how this affects Antarctic wildlife and our entire planet.

How are penguins affected by climate change?

In some parts of the Antarctic, penguin numbers are falling. Find out how climate change is putting penguins at risk.

Are we still discovering new whale species?

In short: yes. Learn about the discovery of the pygmy blue whale and why it shows how much we still don't know about whales.

Why are tiny krill so important?

Krill are essential food for whales and other Antarctic creatures, and they're amazing creatures in their own right.

Do ocean sanctuaries really work?

Only a tiny fraction of our oceans are protected, but places where protection does exist show how well they work.

What do whales have to do with climate change?

Scientists are only beginning to realise how important whales are for healthy oceans and a healthy climate, and it involves poo.

It’s one of the smallest ocean creatures that we should perhaps be most concerned about. Krill are tiny crustaceans, a bit like shrimp, which are vital for almost all Antarctic life. They provide food for many other species, including blue whales, humpback whales and Adélie penguins. Even if an animal doesn’t eat krill, it will eat something that does.

Climate change is causing problems for krill as well. They depend on the edges of the sea ice for food and shelter. Less ice means fewer areas in which krill can thrive. And as the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide, the water is becoming more acidic and krill struggle to develop properly.

The fishing industry has also targeted krill. Krill oil is being sold as a health supplement and vast numbers of krill were being caught to feed demand. But after huge pressure from Greenpeace supporters, almost every company in the krill fishing industry committed to avoid trawling in sensitive Antarctic waters. They even pledged support for a global network of ocean sanctuaries.

And it’s ocean sanctuaries that will do most to protect the Antarctic Ocean. Greenpeace has campaigned for one covering huge areas of the Antarctic, in the Weddell Sea. At 1.8 million square kilometres, it would be the largest protected area on Earth. Sadly, governments with a say on how the Antarctic is managed failed to step up and create the sanctuary so far. That doesn’t mean it’s over. A new global ocean treaty is being discussed by the UN. If that happens, the door is open to a massive network of sanctuaries covering one-third of the world’s ocean.

With that in place, we can protect the Antarctic Ocean along with the rest of our blue planet.

Keep exploring


Whales play a vital role in keeping our oceans healthy. Find out how, and why they're still under threat.

Ocean sanctuaries

Despite covering over 70% of the Earth's surface, only a tiny fraction of our oceans are protected. Discover why sanctuaries are vital to keep the oceans healthy.

Climate change

Our climate is breaking down, but it's in our power to prevent it getting worse. Learn about the causes of the climate crisis and the solutions to tackle it.

Sustainable fishing

Industrial fishing fleets are depleting fish stocks, but it is possible to fish without destroying our oceans. Find out how we can change the fishing industry.