antactica penguins on ice


The largest act of ocean conservation history: the protection of the great southern ocean

At the mention of Antarctica, the picture that comes to mind is one of blizzard swept penguin colonies and frozen ice cliffs. The truth is Antarctica is a complex and diverse ecosystem that harbors a surprising density of wildlife and rivals even the richest habitats in the world. For the few who make the long journey to this distant continent, the reward is one of the world’s greatest natural history experiences. Today, all of the land in Antarctica is protected. The ocean, however, has so far been almost ignored. SeaLegacy is working with a large coalition to call for the protection of several key sites around Antarctica.

The mission

Emperor penguins standing near the Mario Zuchelli Base, Ross Sea, Antarctica

Once isolated and available only to the few adventurous, today Antarctica is facing immense challenges from climate change, large commercial fisheries that exploit foundation species, like krill, a species whose population dynamics are barely understood, as well as a growing tourism destination that is putting pressure on fragile landscapes.

It might seem, given its remoteness, that the impact of human activities on Antarctica has been minimal. This is far from the truth. In the past seals and penguins were slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands for their skins and oil and they are just now starting to make a come back. Whaling has also taken a tremendous toll on cetacean populations and as some country’s fleets continue to pursue whales, they too are making slow progress towards recovery.

The biggest threat to Antarctica today, however, comes from the rapid changes brought forth by climate change and the misperception by the public that the ice is actually growing, instead of retreating. As ice melts, the freshwater entering the system has a lower freezing point, giving the perception that there is more ice. This ice, however, is unhealthy and far from stable and its short term implications for wildlife is still poorly understood.

The results

Expedition on the Alucia to Antarctica Jan 2017

Since 2017, SeaLegacy has been working with a large coalition of nonprofits, scientists and government to accelerate the creation of new marine protected areas in several key sites around the continent.

Of utmost importance is the protection of the fragile waters around the Antarctic Peninsula. A key foraging area for several species of penguins, most of which are in decline. The large commercial fisheries that operate in the region pose a threat to the survival of the incredible wildlife that calls this area home. From humpback whales to leopard seals, the entire food chain depends on an abundance of krill.

seal near ice

“The triple impact of warming weather, commercial fishing and growing tourism demands that we act swiftly to create new marine protections around the great white continent.”

Cristina Mittermeier
Co-Founder & Lead Storyteller