Two Adelie penguins on iceberg, Antarctica © naturepl.com / Edwin Giesbers / WWF

Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) diving off iceberg, Antarctica, January © naturepl.com / Tim Laman / WWF

Antarctica

Icy waters teeming with penguins and pods of killer whales, swirling clouds of krill and majestic humpback whales – the oceans surrounding Antarctica are some of the most pristine and productive in the world. It is a powerhouse of the world's climate. This is where waters from all the northerly oceans meet and mix and sink, and where deep currents and winds drive the oceanic conveyor belt.

Temperature changes in Antarctica have not been uniform; some regions have experienced warming while elsewhere there has been little change—even cooling. On the Antarctic Peninsula, part of West Antarctica, change has been extraordinarily rapid, with temperatures rising over 3°C in the second half of the 20th century. Its incredible biodiversity is threatened by climate change, as well as increased fishing and tourism. Geopolitical pressures and new interests in Antarctic natural resources are escalating. As global fisheries become depleted, there is growing interest to expand fishing efforts throughout the region.

What we're doing

Why it matters 

WWF’s founder Sir Peter Scott famously said of Antarctica in 1966: “We should have the sense to leave just one place alone”. It was a visionary statement but one that is now virtually impossible.


However, WWF continues to be guided by Sir Peter Scott's sentiments for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean by increasing the network of marine protected areas, improving fisheries management, and establishing an effective climate change monitoring program. We are ever vigilant, aware that the governing frameworks for Antarctica, such as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), allow a single country to veto management measures.


There is much at stake. Of the world's 18 penguin species, half are found only within the Southern Ocean. It also provides critical habitat for 80% of the world's large whale species, including the humpback whale and southern right whale, which are only now recovering from being hunted to the brink of extinction, and the blue whale – Earth's largest living creature. Minke whales, sperm and killer whales complete the suite of impressive cetaceans.


Did you know?

It is home to albatross, penguins and seals. 88 per cent of species in the Southern Ocean are found nowhere else in the world.

WWF recognises that these new challenges require a new approach. Our Antarctic Conservation Program monitors and reports on the state of species, ecosystems and human impacts. But we do much more. We give the Antarctic oceans a voice, campaigning for marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean and designing innovative conservation solutions.

 

Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) diving off iceberg, Antarctica, January © naturepl.com / Tim Laman / WWF

Threats

  • GLOBAL WARMING
  • Increased fishing pressure and illegal fishing
  • Marine Pollution
  • Invasive species

  • Climate change
    Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to the region. Some parts of Antarctica are experiencing significant ice retreat, including the collapse of ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula, while other areas are increasing. If our climate continues to warm and acidify the Southern ocean, scientists predict that krill populations could be devastated, undermining the entire food chain.

    Increased fishing pressure and illegal fishing
    As global fisheries become depleted, there is growing interest to expand fishing throughout the region. Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing also threatens fish stocks in some areas of the Southern Ocean and thereby the seabirds and marine mammals that depend upon them. The harmful fishing methods used by IUU fishing vessels also cause the direct deaths of countless seabirds.

    Marine pollution
    Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been measured around Antarctica and detected in wildlife. Microplastics are emerging as a threat in the region. Increasing quantities of plastic are washing up on the Antarctic coastline and sub-Antarctic islands.

    Invasive species
    Many Antarctic species have evolved in isolation from the rest of the world. Consequently, they have developed no means of defending themselves from the invasive species carried aboard ships. WWF catalysed and helped fund the removal of rabbits from Macquarie Island and is now helping to remove mice from the Antipodes Islands.

    Recommended Reading

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    © Sian Breen / WWF-Aus

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