Almost a year ago, Professor Kirsten Müller from the department of biology embarked on a life-changing voyage to Antarctica. During this journey with Homeward Bound, Müller and 98 other women leaders from around the globe encountered the rugged but beautiful landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula.
“The impact of human activity was clearly evident from warming temperatures on the Antarctic peninsula, invasive species, melting sea ice, and shifting and decreasing populations of numerous species,” recalled Müller. “We became critically aware human activity is having a profound impact even in this isolated region of our planet.”
This October, spurred by on ship conversations from that voyage, Carolyn Hogg and other Homeward Bound 4 members published a call to action in the prestigious academic journal Nature. This article, accompanied by the signatures of 289 women scientists and Homeward Bound Alumni including Müller, is calling for the establishment of a new marine protected area along the Western Antarctic Peninsula. The suggested protected area was first proposed in 2018, and is currently being discussed this week by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) – the group that manages the Southern Ocean’s resources.
The call to action in this article and by Müller and the Homeward Bound alumni recognizes four main factors that are putting the Antarctic Peninsula at risk: overfishing, tourism, expanding research infrastructures, and climate change. As the northernmost point of Antarctica, and also the closest to the tip of Southern America, it is the easiest place to travel to on the continent. This has led to a tripling of fishing in the area since 2000, a doubling of tourists in the past decade, and the highest concentration of research stations on the continent.
The proposed marine protection area calls for fishing limits in some areas, and fishing bans closer to the coasts where krill fishing has a direct impact to the food chains and ecosystems of the Antarctic. It would also create a systematic way to protect the area, while allowing for sustainable research efforts and environmentally responsible tourism, as opposed to the piecemeal management currently in place around the peninsula.
“I am so proud of my Homeward Bound 4 colleagues and to also be one of 289 women in STEMM who are signatory to this article to call for marine protected area in Antarctica,” says Müller. “It’s almost a year since I had the privilege to spend three weeks with these amazing women in Antarctica. As a phycologist (a scientist who studies algae and seaweeds), it is critical that we consider our impacts on the polar regions of our planet and protect these fragile ecosystems, including our own Arctic.”
If you would like to learn more about the proposed protected area in the Antarctic Peninsula and add your voice to the call for action, visit Antarctica Now. You can also follow them on Twitter and Instagram.