On historic day for protection of polar oceans, Greenpeace announces expedition for an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary

Publication date: 1st December 2017

An international agreement to protect the Central Arctic Ocean against all commercial fishing was reached in Washington DC last night, [1] on the eve of a huge marine protected area for the Ross Sea in the Antarctic coming into force. [2]

Today, World Antarctica Day, Greenpeace has announced an ambitious three-month expedition to the Antarctic between January and March 2018. The crew aboard Greenpeace’s iconic ice-class vessel the Arctic Sunrise will undertake groundbreaking scientific research and document the area’s unique wildlife to bolster the case for the creation of a huge new Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary, which would be the largest protected area on Earth. [3]

The expedition will see the first ever humans visiting the sea floor of the Weddell Sea in submersibles, which is the subject of an EU proposal for a 1.8 million square kilometre ocean sanctuary to be considered by the Antarctic Ocean Commission (CCAMLR) in October 2018.

Greenpeace is taking Antarctic specialists who will conduct scientific research to identify new species and Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems on the seafloor, including rare corals and sponges. This would provide further evidence for the need for comprehensive protection of the area. The crew will also undertake water sampling to identify the presence of any plastic pollution in this remote region.

The expedition will also see documentation of the unique and iconic Antarctic wildlife which is facing acute pressure from climate change, fishing and pollution. Award-winning photographers and videographers will be on board to document marine life, such as penguin colonies coping with pressures on food supplies, and majestic whales feasting in the Antarctic Ocean after mammoth migrations.

Frida Bengtsson, head of Greenpeace’s Antarctic Campaign, said:

‘Today is a historic day for the protection of the polar oceans and really shows what international collaboration can achieve. But we need to do so much more. In October 2018, a historic proposal will be on the table: to create an enormous Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary which would be the largest protected area on Earth. This sanctuary would not only be a safe haven for penguins, whales and seals, but it would put the waters off-limits to huge industrial fishing vessels sucking up the tiny shrimp-like krill, on which all Antarctic sea life relies.

‘We’re really excited to be taking a diverse and talented crew of scientists, submarine pilots, campaigners, photographers and videographers to help build the case for an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary. Ocean sanctuaries are crucial to protect the wildlife that lives in them, but they affect us all in a bigger way. Healthy oceans take in vast quantities of carbon dioxide and are essential in tackling climate change. We’re going to do everything we can over the next year to make sure that not only do the governments responsible for Antarctic protection know the world is watching them, but also to make sure they do not pass up this historic opportunity to protect this amazing place.’



[1] Central Arctic Ocean agreement:

The United States, Canada, Norway, Russia, The Kingdom of Denmark, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, China and the European Union signed a 16 year moratorium on commercial fishing in international waters in an area roughly the size of the Mediterranean Sea. The Central Arctic Ocean is facing increased threats as its protective shield of sea ice is melting due to climate change. Forty percent of this historically ice-covered area has experienced ice-free summers in recent years. The legally binding agreement will automatically be extended every five years, unless a country objects or a science-based fisheries management plan is put in place. It is vital that all countries involved now ratify the agreement and commit to long term protection for this vulnerable ocean.

[2] Ross Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA):

The Ross Sea MPA, covering 1.5 million square kilometres, was agreed by the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) last year, and comes into force today, 1 December 2018.

[3] Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary:

Greenpeace is campaigning for an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary covering 1.8 million square kilometres in the Weddell Sea. The proposal has been submitted by the EU and backed by the German Government. It will be considered when CCAMLR next convenes, in October 2018.

Greenpeace’s Antarctic expedition will run for three months from the start of January to the end of March 2018. Further details of the expedition will be released in January.

See here for a collection of historic Greenpeace images from the Antarctic.

See here for an image of the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise.

For interviews, comments and further information:

Greenpeace UK press office, press.uk@greenpeace.org, 020 7865 8255