Antarctic Protection: We have failed in 2020 – we cannot afford to lose another year.

It’s been a tough year. We put our lives on pause while the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged our families and our businesses.

It also disrupted our conservation efforts.

This week 25 nations and the EU met to discuss creating three large MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) around Antarctica, to safeguard the region from overfishing and other industrial activities.

We’ve just learnt that they will not do so.

The final blow of 2020

From a personal point of view this is very disappointing. I’ve been working on this for over 2 years. I even swam under the Antarctic ice sheet earlier this year to highlight the importance of protecting these waters.

Our futures depend on saving the Polar Regions. And yet another year has passed without protecting this vital ecosystem.

With just two more signatures (Russia and China), we could have created the largest protected area in the world and helped to make Antarctica more resilient to the impacts of the climate crisis.

Coming together

At the height of the Cold War we were able to come together to set Antarctica aside as a place for ‘peace and science’.

But we omitted to protect the waters around it, and that’s where the wildlife is; the emperor penguins, humpback whales, leopard seals, and over 9,000 species found nowhere else.

Crucially, the Southern Ocean helps regulate our climate. It also drives ocean circulation and carries oxygen and nutrients around the world.

In short, it is essential for life on Earth.

The final yards

I would like to personally thank all the diplomats, scientists and conservationists who have worked so hard.

I appreciate that many of you are exhausted and, in some cases, despondent. But I ask you to please stick with it, and redouble your efforts next year. I can assure you that I will be doing so.

What I’ve learnt from endurance swimming is that the final stretch can get exponentially tougher. When you swim in the icy waters of Antarctica, that is especially the case.

But we know it’s possible to get these waters protected. We did it in 2016 when we created the Ross Sea MPA. We can do it again.

Lewis Pugh is an endurance swimmer and UN Patron of the Oceans. For three decades he has swum in the most vulnerable ecosystems, in particular the Polar Regions, to call for their protection.