AntarcticaNOW is an international group of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine (STEMM) with disciplinary fields ranging from Antarctic research to conservation biology and public policy. It was founded by members of #TeamHB4, during the world’s largest ever all-woman expedition to Antarctica in 2019. AntarcticaNOW members are united by a single cause: protecting the spectacular biodiversity of Antarctica.
AntarcticaNOW’s key campaign is to advocate for a marine protected area for the Western Antarctic Penninsula, a proposal before the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) annual meeting – held virtually – this week (18 – 29 October 2021).
HB Intern Tess Wichlinski caught up with Dr. Marissa Parrott, a founding member of AntarcticaNOW and a reproductive biologist at Zoos Victoria, to learn about the campaign.
So what exactly is the AntarcticaNOW project and what are the main objectives?
During the Homeward Bound voyage of 2019, our group met every morning to perform wildlife surveys to record and track the different species of Antarctica. We absolutely fell in love with the wildlife and the environment of Antarctica, however during the program we learned about the many threats facing this area, such as increasing temperature, krill fishing, infrastructure and tourism, and decreasing sea ice, which could result in the extinction of up to 50 percent of the Antarctic species in the next 50 years. While this was initially very shocking for us to realise, we nonetheless felt hopeful by witnessing the amazing success stories of marine protected areas in places like the Ross Sea.
As such, AntarcticaNOW was born from our passionate desire to protect the West Antarctic Peninsula by creating a marine protected area. While this region looks pristine, unfortunately there are micro-plastics in the blood of the wildlife, increasing threats from krill fishing, and of course decreasing sea ice as it is one of the fastest warming places on earth. So if we can work together to create a marine protected area, this will help to protect the beautiful ecosystems and wildlife of the Western Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding areas for now and the future.
What is one of the greatest threats to the Antarctic ecosystem?
Across the world, there is a growing demand for things such as krill oil, which subsequently increases the fishing pressure of krill around Antarctica. This increased pressure directly competes with the local wildlife that rely on krill; for their food, to raise their chicks, and other processes. Animals from the tiniest micro-organisms to the largest whales rely on krill, so this species is lost, the entire ecosystem will collapse. There are also other threats from growing infrastructure for research and tourism. This is further compounded by decreasing sea ice and other effects of climate change. A marine protected area will provide a greater amount of protection to Antarctica.
Who else is involved in this project? What kind of skills and specialties do these people possess?
AntarcticaNOW began with a group of alumni and faculty on the 2019 Homeward Bound Antarctic voyage. Our team consists of a globally diverse range of individuals who possess skills in all areas of science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine; Everyone from Antarctic researchers, to conservationists to global policy experts, to strategy mapping specialists, to media and communications experts. Overall, we have a great group of women who are working to help protect Antarctica.
What have been some of the successes of this campaign so far?
Looking back at what we’ve achieved so far we are extremely proud of our accomplishments, particularly considering the challenges we have all faced such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In our first year we created a new website – AntarcticaNOW.org – which provides information for the general public, policymakers and governments about marine protected areas, Antarctic wildlife and krill, the ecosystem of the Western Antarctic Peninsula, and threats to this region. We have also now translated this information into languages such as Chinese, Spanish, French, and Russian.
We have created social media campaigns across various platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to raise public awareness, as well as other media pieces and videos which illustrate the importance of krill, the threats of climate change, and what we can do to help.
However, we’re most proud of our collaborative achievement of writing an article on the importance of Antarctica, its threats and solutions, including a marine protected area, which was published in the journal, Nature. Excitingly, the paper was supported by the signatures of 288 women in STEMM: alumni and faculty from Homeward Bound. We have also published corresponding articles in areas such as The Conversation which has all led to a global outreach through the media to places such as New Zealand, Australia, Europe, the Americas, and Asia. This has significantly helped raise the profile of the campaign. We are now working on more papers that further examine the increasing threats to Antarctica, as this is essential to effective decision making and conservation policy development. So overall, we’ve achieved a lot, but there’s still a lot more to do.
We are excited to work with future Homeward Bound cohorts and continue this project for the purpose of making a difference for Antarctica.
Could you tell us more about CCAMLR? What is the significance of this week’s CCAMLR meeting?
CCAMLR is a Commission of 26 countries (plus a further 10 countries acceding to the Convention) who meet every year to discuss the conservation of Antarctic ecosystem and wildlife. They are responsible for establishing the rules and regulations for Antarctica’s marine ecosystems. In 2017, they created a new marine protected area for the Ross Sea, which was greatly successful. Now they will be discussing the possibility of creating three more marine protected areas for the West Antarctic Peninsula, for the Weddell Sea, and Eastern Antarctica. However, these discussions have been happening for a long time, so our goal is to raise public awareness and to support CCAMLR to create these new marine protected areas as soon as possible in order to ensure the best protection possible for Antarctica.
What would be the next phase should this marine protected area be successfully created?
There are definitely more areas of Antarctica that need greater protection. Therefore, if this marine protected area in the Western Antarctica Peninsula is successfully created, we’re hopeful that in the next few years we can join other advocacy groups and focus on creating more marine protected areas in regions such as the Weddell Sea and in Eastern Antarctica. We’d love to see the AntarcticaNOW project as a legacy program that can be handed down to future generations and Homeward Bound cohorts, so they too can protect Antarctica.
What can individuals do to help? What would you like to see people in the public doing to help with this project?
One of the best things you can do is share information about Antarctica; Its wilderness, its beauty and its importance, so that we can maintain interest and awareness, which in turn sustains pressure upon governments and policymakers. We would love people to join us in sharing knowledge and awareness publicly about Antarctica, discussing the importance of marine protected areas, and signing petitions with our partners. If we can keep Antarctica and marine protected areas in the public eye, then it’s much easier to keep it in the eye of governments and policymakers as well.
- Visit AntarcticaNOW.org
- Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter
- Share their posts and use the hashtag #CallOnCCAMLR
- Read the AntarcticaNOW Policy Report (English) here
- Read the Nature article – October 2020 – Protect the Antarctic Peninsula before it’s too late
- Read The Conversation article October 2020 – Humans threaten the Antarctic Peninsula’s fragile ecosystem. A marine protected area is long overdue
- Learn more about CCAMLR here
Words: Tess Wichlinski
Image: Port Locroy by Will Rogan