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Friday
Feb092018

Stars back campaign for Antarctic wildlife reserve

nikpal/iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Javier Bardem was watching a group of penguins on an icy slope meters away from the freezing waters of the Antarctic Sea when he looked to the camera and said: “There is a God, and
he is watching us right now.” He wasn't recording a film, rather he was documenting his experience on a conservation mission.

For him, the joy of seeing wild penguins in their natural habitat was tinged with the regret of knowing that their existence was under threat.

Antartica is not an inviting environment to its wildlife. For the continent's inhabitants, living there means surviving and evolving in the coldest and darkest place on earth. Additionally, strains
on the ecosystems from an increase in man-made activity could push many of the Antarctic’s most iconic species to the brink.

A proposal submitted in November by the European Union (EU) and led by Germany argues that the biodiversity of areas in the Weddell Sea must be protected.

An essential block in many of these ecosystems is the supply of krill. This tiny, plankton-like crustacean provides a staple food source for many animals in the Antarctic, from fish and penguins to
even larger species like seals and whales.

The krill is why Bardem set sail to Antarctica, where he spent just over a week on the choppy seas, staving off seasickness and even descending to the seafloor in a submarine.

He was there to support and publicize a campaign set up by Greenpeace. The international conservation charity highlights and supports proposals for the park and works with scientists who are
collecting evidence of the uniqueness of life in the Weddell Sea.

Bardem, who previously shunned social media, set up accounts to share videos of his journey there -- getting the attention of David Harbor. The "Stranger Things" actor is now on his way to the
Antarctic after one of his tweets asking for a spot on Greenpeace's mission went viral and caught Greenpeace's attention.

An international campaign to designate 1.8 million square kilometers of the Weddell Sea on the Antarctic coast as a protected marine sanctuary -- the largest in the world -- is on a deadline to
convince the international commission responsible for Antarctic conservation, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marie Living Resources (CCAMLR), to approve the plans.

Currently, there's no industrial krill-fishing in the Weddell Sea. But lobbyists for the industry are pushing against the sectioning off of the area, arguing that commercial fishing is sustainable
and within legal limits of how much they can catch.

But to Luke Massey, who is leading Greenpeace’s Antarctic mission, that's not the point.

“The point is that stocks move,” Massey told ABC News. “And when the krill move to different waters -- and there are all sorts of things that are changing the environment there like climate change
and temperature rises -- the fishing industry will follow them.”

Setting up a sanctuary in the Weddell Sea will not only prevent commercial boats from fishing there, but it will include other conservation commitments that will benefit the ecosystems there,
including more science projects. These projects would be funded by international groups, and there would be far greater access restrictions for all human activity -- not just fishing.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (ICUN), argued in 2016 that there's a global imperative to protect at least a third of the world’s oceans by 2030 to ensure the health of the
oceans and mitigate climate change.

“The other crucial aspect of oceans that many people don’t realize is that a healthy ocean actually combats climate change," Massey said. "The oceans produce more oxygen than all the trees on the
planet.”

The Marine Stewardship Council's David Agnew, Ph.D., told ABC News that the wildlife in the earmarked area is not under threat from overfishing, pointing out that every expedition down to the
Antarctic is expensive and involves acquiring licenses and filling out applications.

“The trouble with that area is that we have an entire lack of information about what’s currently down there. There are tens of millions of years of biodiversity that has been growing in those
conditions -- but what we are doing elsewhere in the planet, putting plastic in the oceans and heating it up -- that jeopardizes the environment," he explained.

“Making a Marine Protected Area is one way we can provide [a] low impact on such a vulnerable habitat so it is as resistant as possible to the changes going on.”

Until the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meets in October, Greenpeace hopes to collect data samples to show what systems and species may be at risk in
future years as increasing pollution and global warming introduce more challenges to the Antarctic environment.

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