Javier Bardem Joins Landmark Antarctic Expedition Supporting Creation of World's Largest Protected Area (Video)

Meanwhile, "Stranger Things" star fulfills his promise to dance with penguins.

Actor and activist Javier Bardem was on hand Tuesday at the screening of rare film footage taken of the Antarctic seabed as part of a global campaign to create an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary, which at 1.8 million square kilometers would be the largest protected area on Earth.

The Academy Award-winning actor previously joined scientists and campaigners for part of a groundbreaking three-month-long expedition to the Antarctic seabed to collect data and samples to help bolster the argument that such a sanctuary—which would be off-limits to industrial fishing vessels—is crucial. The expedition marks the first time humans have visited the seafloor in the Weddell Sea, which is the subject of an EU proposal for an ocean sanctuary and backed by the German government. It will be considered by the Antarctic Ocean Commission when it next convenes, in October 2018. 

The researchers found sensitive marine ecosystems featuring sponges, corals, basket stars and sea feathers.

"There is so much life on the ocean floor," said Bardem, who took a dive to view the seabed. "I would not have expected that in these waters. This biodiversity must be protected with a sanctuary."

Javier Bardem and submarine pilot John Hocevar about to dive in Antarctic waters with the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise in the background.

The Berlin event came on the same day "Stranger Things" actor David Harbour fulfilled his promise to the internet to dance with penguins in the Antarctic aboard the Greenpeace expedition, after a viral Twitter challenge. On Tuesday, Greenpeace released video footage of the "Dance of the Penguins."

Actress Alison Sudol and actor David Harbour with Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise ship, which is currently on a research expedition in the Antarctic. (image: Greenpeace)

"This sanctuary would be a safe haven for penguins, whales and seals, and put the waters off-limits to the industrial fishing vessels sucking up the tiny shrimp-like krill on which Antarctic life relies," said Frida Bengtsson, head of Greenpeace’s new Protect the Antarctic campaign. She added, "There are 35 of us on this ship—scientists, campaigners, submarine pilots, deckhands—but when we return in three months’ time, we want to come back with a global movement calling for governments to protect the Antarctic."

Top and above: Gentoo Penguins with their chicks in the Antarctic. (images: Greenpeace)

"Over half a million people have already backed the call for an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary," noted Bengtsson. "The movement to create the biggest protected area on Earth is growing by the day."

March of the penguins

As the Antarctic expedition began last month, pop-up paper penguins have been spotted at national landmarks across the globe as part of Greenpeace's campaign to support the creation of an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary.

The striking geometric sculptures, crafted by Wolfram Kampffmeyer of German-based 3D design company Paperwolf, have appeared at the White House, Buenos Aires’ colorful Boca district, Sydney Opera House, and the Sagrada Família in Barcelona. 

March of the Penguins in London, January 2018. (image: Greenpeace)

March of the Penguins in Barcelona. (image: Greenpeace)

March of the Penguins in Seoul. (image: Greenpeace)

March of the Penguins in Berlin. (image: Greenpeace)

A landmark expedition

The crew of the Greenpeace ship Neko Harbour is undertaking a landmark expedition that will spearhead new types of scientific research using submarines, including the documentation of the region's unique wildlife, which is experiencing increasing pressure from a host of human-induced stressors, such as climate change, pollution and overfishing. The crew will also bring back water samples that may indicate the presence of plastic, a global scourge that has reached the far corners of the world's oceans.

Antarctic scientists will also conduct research to identify new species living on the seabed, such as rare sponges and corals, as well as pinpointing "vulnerable marine ecosystems" (VMEs).

John Hocevar, a Greenpeace marine biologist who piloted the submarine, said:

Our first dive in the Antarctic Ocean was amazing. I really didn’t know what to expect, but we saw so much life, it was very diverse. There were a lot of species of sponges, corals, sea squirts, a lot of different kinds of sea stars and their relatives, basket stars, feather stars. It was just incredible how the whole bottom was carpeted with life. I really didn’t expect it. I hope the work we’re doing down here shows exactly why we need to protect this precious ecosystem.

“At some of the dive sites, the habitat structure and marine fauna suggest the presence of so-called 'vulnerable marine ecosystems,'" said Dr. Susanne Lockhart, an Antarctic specialist with the California Academy of Sciences who is joining the expedition's dives to the seafloor. "The diversity and abundance of critical invertebrates are exceptionally high in these places. Many of these organisms form complex, three-dimensional structures on the seabed, which in turn provide a habitat and protection for other species, like the Antarctic ice fish. Such dense, slow-growing communities are considered to be particularly sensitive to man-made disturbance, such as industrial fishing."

The scientists are collecting research and evidence to demonstrate how critical it is to create the Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary.

"The first steps have finally been taken by those entrusted to govern the Antarctic Ocean to protect one of the world's last pristine marine ecosystems: an ocean that connects all oceans," said Dr. Lockhart, who noted that the research she and her colleagues are gathering "will help determine areas which should be a priority for protection as countries work together to create the world's largest ocean sanctuary."

Scientist Susanne Lockhart with a crew member on the Arctic Sunrise. (image: Greenpeace)

"The bottom of our blue planet may seem far away to many of us, but what happens there is crucial to all of our futures," Lockhart said. "An Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary would not only safeguard the unique penguins, whales and seals in this incredible area, but it will ensure the ocean is healthy enough to help mitigate against the worst effects of climate change. When governments meet in October, they have the opportunity to create the largest protected area on Earth. Let's make it happen."

Greenpeace's Antarctic expedition started in January and will conclude in early April 2018.

Watch footage of Greenpeace's submarine dives to the Antarctic seabed: 

Reynard Loki is AlterNet's environment, food and animal rights editor. Follow him on Twitter @reynardloki. Email him at [email protected].

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018