A plea for Adélie (Penguins)

Adélie Penguins hunting in the Ross Sea (photo by John B. Weller)

Last week in an obscure stone building in Hobart Tasmania, representatives from 24 nations plus the European Union, sat in stiff dark suits around a large table, making decisions that will determine the fate of one our great global commons, the Southern Ocean. They discussed proposals for expansive marine protected areas, including in the Ross Sea, Antarctica, deemed by many to be one of the healthiest and richest marine ecosystems on Earth. The Ross Sea is the most productive stretch of Antarctic waters and supports an incredible array of fishes, invertebrates, seals, whales and seabirds – including more than one-quarter of the world’s Emperor Penguins, and more than one-third of all Adélie Penguins.

Adélie Penguins hunting in the Ross Sea (photo by John B. Weller)

Since my first trip to the Antarctic a decade ago, I’ve felt a visceral compulsion to protect this place. I worked toward this goal first through science, studying the life history of Antarctic toothfish. I then turned to media, working alongside my husband to publish articles, websites, a book, and even helping to produce a feature documentary on the Ross Sea. Now, I have spent the last four years pursuing my PhD at Stanford University, trying to understand the policies, and policy-making, that govern the waters around Antarctica. As I sat in the meeting, watching negotiations for a Ross Sea marine protected area stall for the fourth year in a row, I thought of my daughter, Adelie. Will I be able to tell her stories of waters at the bottom of the world that still teem with fish, birds, and mammals? Or will the whole of the Southern Ocean follow the tragic course of my own native New England waters?

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