I often sit at my desk imagining that I am an alien. Bear with me. I am not totally insane. I just think it would be interesting to land on this little blue and green planet for the first time, and see the world that we so often take for granted with a fresh pair of eyes. I reckon if we did this more often we might realise quite how precious what we have is.
So when a scientific report like this one lands in my inbox, I tend to read it with wide eyed wonder. This report by a group of international scientists assesses the ‘ecological or biological significance’ of the Arctic. And their conclusion (and I paraphrase) is that it is officially AWESOME! The case for Arctic protection is now stronger and clearer than ever and this is a really important milestone for the campaign.
It’s a chunky report, so for those of you who won’t read the full 156 pages of it, here are my top 5 reasons why Arctic ecosystems blow me away:
5. It’s a polar bear refuge.
The area near the centre of the Arctic will retain sea ice longest, providing a vital refuge for vulnerable, ice-dependent species, like the amazing white aquatic bear that makes the ice cap it’s home.
4. It’s a globally important habitat, with 21,000 known species.
The report explains that despite looking at first glance like a vast and empty expanse, the Arctic hosts globally significant biodiversity, and Arctic ecosystems are of critical importance to the biological, chemical and physical balance of the WHOLE planet.
Figure 2. A conceptual model for the ecosystem at the marginal ice zone (CAFF 2010).
Source: Convention on Biological Diversity.
3. Millions of migratory birds breed in the Arctic and then fly to every continent on Earth.
The report tells us that during the short summer breeding season, 279 species of birds to take advantage of the long days and intense period of productivity. Thirty species come from as far away as South Africa, 26 from Australia and New Zealand and 22 from South America.
The small, humble Arctic Turn flies from pole to pole every year, and can live to be 30 years old!
2. It is the world’s only ice covered deep ocean.
Arctic multi-year sea ice lies across a deep ocean basin, creating an extraordinary frozen landscape and habitat at the top of our planet. Over the last 100 years, average Arctic temperatures have increased at almost twice the average global rate. This extraordinary place is changing extraordinarily fast.
1. It is home to aquatic unicorns!
I am not joking – Narwhals have an incredible tusk like a unicorn’s horn. Narwhals depend on the sea ice to live and sadly they are one of the top three species most at risk in the Arctic.
The most extraordinary living thing in our oceans? Discuss.
Scientists have identified 11 areas in that Arctic that are so awesome they deserve to be recognised as ‘ecologically and biologically significant areas’. These scientists are working as part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which itself comes out the United Nations. So this is a serious and weighty international report. The case for Arctic protection could hardly be stronger.
However the sad fact is that this is still a long way from getting the protection the Arctic so desperately needs. In fact this breathtaking place remains at grave risk. The next step is to get the classification rubber stamped, and even then there is no guarantee of protection.
And that is why it is so vital that as many people as possible help to raise the alarm and up the pressure. We must force the international community and the Arctic states to ACT on the evidence and to protect this amazing ecosystem for generations to come. After all, we don’t have to be from another planet to be blown away by the wonder of our world.
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Sophie Allain is a Polar Campaigner at Greenpeace International.
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