updated 2/14/2012 11:20:31 AM ET 2012-02-14T16:20:31

A ship bound for Antarctica's pristine oceans and small islands recently departed from New Zealand in an effort to raise awareness of this rich, unsullied wilderness and the growing threats to it.

The month-long voyage will take scientists, Antarctica experts and a marine conservationist from the group WWF through the icy continent's isolated waters.

In 1959, the Antarctic Treaty  set aside the southern continent for peaceful activities and scientific research, but overfishing, tourism, shipping and climate change are all growing problems, WWF said in a statement. Mining and oil exploration also pose potential threats to the region.

Scientists value the Ross Sea, which lies at the edge of the Antarctic continent, about 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) from New Zealand, as one of the most significant large marine ecosystems with its top predators still intact.

Marine biologist and WWF conservationist Bob Zuur, who will be documenting the voyage from aboard the icebreaker, said, "Antarctica's Southern Ocean is famed for its majestic isolation and magnificent wildlife, including emperor penguins, albatross, Ross Sea killer whales and colossal squid. It is also of global importance to humanity."

A New Zealand business man and philanthropist, Gareth Morgan, organized the expedition to promote conservation efforts among his fellow Kiwis.

WWF marine program manager Rebecca Bird said in a statement: "This almost pristine marine environment will not stay this way for long unless there is a coordinated international effort to protect it. Current measures are not enough to stem the tide of human activities that threaten this great southern wilderness."

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