Why we should work to protect the Antarctic environment

Nothing compares to the crisp white glaciers, blue oceanic depths, and the unique wildlife of Antarctica. Nevertheless, this beautiful continent is under threat and a global effort is required to protect it.

Let’s take a closer look at why we should work to protect the breathtaking Antarctic environment.

The importance of Antarctica

Antarctica is more than just a sprawling white landmass, it also plays a vital role in supporting life around the world. Few places have such a profound impact on the Earth’s climate and ocean systems as The White Continent.

While Antarctica is known for being remote, hostile and uninhabitable, it’s also a fragile environment that’s vulnerable to damage.

What is it that makes Antarctica so vital to the global ecosystem?

Climate

Antarctic ice helps to deflect the sun’s rays away from the Earth, which ensures global temperatures remain liveable. If the ice melts, this deflection is reduced.

Likewise, Antarctica contains up to 90 per cent of Earth’s fresh water. If Antarctic ice sheets melt (even on a small scale), it will raise global sea levels. This would increase flooding around the world.

Sea ice plays an important role too, regulating the way warm and cold water moves around the oceans. Unfortunately, the more ice melts, the worse it gets. Melting ice causes a greater amount of heat to be absorbed into the ocean. And this itself causes even faster melting.

Wildlife

While it is the only continent on the planet to host no terrestrial mammals, Antarctica is home to a vibrant range of marine animals.

Thanks to its abundance of tiny, nutrient-rich plankton and krill, plenty of sea life (including numerous species of whale, dolphin, and penguin) live in the ocean surrounding Antarctica.

Antarctica’s wildlife includes 18 species of penguin — including Emperor, Macaroni, and Adelie penguins, 6 species of seal — including the Antarctic Fur Seal and Crabeater Seal, 8 species of whale — including Orcas and Humpbacks, and 5 species of dolphin — including Dusky and Hourglass dolphins.

An amazing 19 species of seabird, such as the Wandering Albatross, breed in Antarctica and plenty more can be found living in the region. Together, these incredible creatures make for a spectacular sight. The thought of losing them is an incredibly sad one.

A natural laboratory

Antarctica is what scientists call a ‘natural laboratory’ that can help us better understand global climate change. Specialists travel to the continent to study climate, weather, wildlife, and geology.

Not ruled by any one country, Antarctica has long served as a unique place for research. In 1959, twelve countries came together to sign The Antarctic Treaty — acknowledging that Antarctica should only be used for peaceful purposes and scientific investigation. Many other nations have since signed the agreement, further establishing Antarctica as a protected continent.

Want to learn more? Read up on the British Antarctic Survey, which now operates five research stations in Antarctica.

Does anyone live in Antarctica?

Antarctica is a notoriously cold, windy, dry, and high landmass. Despite common misconceptions, it doesn’t snow very much on the continent. It’s even dry enough to be classed as a polar desert!

These harsh conditions mean that no people are native to Antarctica and no one permanently lives there now. Still, research scientists looking into areas like Antarctic wildlife, geology, or the effect of climate change on the continent do live there temporarily.

Of course, tourists can visit too. Our luxurious Antarctic expedition cruises take guests to the Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, and more stops on the way to the White Continent. Boutique cruise ships offer a safe, comfortable, and educational way to experience the beauty of this one-of-a-kind area.

Protecting Antarctica

Air and ocean temperatures in Antarctica are rising, and it’s clear what this means for the vast, icy environment. Scientists are observing changes in the polar region. If it continues, the landscape, ocean currents, wildlife, sea levels and other areas of the world will be severely affected.

Climate change in the Antarctic

In the Antarctic Peninsula, air temperatures increased by nearly 3℃ towards the end of the 20th century — causing ice to melt and glaciers to retreat and collapse. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this is five times the mean rate of global warming.

Upper-ocean temperatures in the region have increased by over 1℃ since 1955 and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current is warming more quickly than the rest of the ocean.

Even more worryingly, changes have even been observed in nearly 90% of glaciers, showing the entire Antarctic region is beginning to suffer at the hands of global warming.

Research in Antarctica

As Antarctica is experiencing rapid warming more acutely than other areas of the world, scientists are increasingly keen to study climate change in the region. Offering an insight into future climate change, researchers can use data from Antarctica to make predictions elsewhere.

As research continues, these findings can hopefully be used to guide policy-makers in the right direction.

Just like all ecosystems, everything is connected in Antarctica. Even the tiniest changes in sea levels, ocean temperatures, sea ice, and the marine food web can have far-reaching consequences — and not just for Antarctica, but for the rest of the world too.

Conservation measures in Antarctica

There’s no doubt that Antarctica is a place worth protecting. Under The Antarctic Treaty and the Madrid Protocol on Environmental Protection, Antarctica’s flora and fauna are protected, fishing is regulated, and mandatory rules apply to human activities in the region.

Cruise ships and their guests must adhere to strict rules when visiting the area to keep pollution, disturbance, and damage to an absolute minimum.

Visiting Antarctica with Swan Hellenic

By protecting Antarctica from climate change, we can make sure future generations can experience the wonder of this awe-inspiring landscape. Visiting Antarctica truly is a magical, once-in-a-lifetime trip — if you’d like to see it for yourself, take a look at our discovery cruises in Antarctica.

You can be sure that we take sustainability seriously at Swan Hellenic. Committed to environmentally responsible tourism, we meet the latest environmental regulations. Our vessels are emission-free in port and sail through wildlife sanctuaries on zero-emission batteries. Plus, we don’t use single-use plastic and ensure our premium fixtures and technical fittings feature sustainable materials.

An educational, sustainable Antarctic cruise offers the opportunity to learn more about the conservation of Antarctica — something that we believe inspires and empowers people to help protect the environment.

Browse our range of itineraries and choose the best travel dates for you. You can also book a boutique cabin room of your choice. A trip to Antarctica is an unforgettable one. Learn more about the Swan Hellenic experience or read our other blog posts.

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