Thursday, February 21, 2013

Antarctica needs marine protected areas

The Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in its meeting from October 23 to November 1, 2012, failed to deliver any agreement on marine protected areas (MPAs) for Antarctica’s Southern Ocean. CCAMLR, made up of 24 countries and the European Union, had been considering proposals for turning two critical areas in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean into MPAs at the meeting, including 1.6 million square kilometres of the Ross Sea, the world’s most intact marine ecosystem, and 1.9 million square kilometres of coastal area in the East Antarctic.

Initially there were two proposals for the Ross Sea, one submitted by the US and one by New Zealand. This was problematic and an issue for many CCAMLR nations. One of the positive outcomes of the meeting last year was that New Zealand and the US negotiated an agreement on a joint proposal. Hence there is only one Ross Sea proposal, a joint one.

The meeting, which required the concurrence of all the member nations for a decision on MPAs, failed to reach any agreement and it was decided to hold a special extraordinary meeting in July 2013 in Germany to address the issues involved.

As such there are now only 2 proposals- the joint one for the Ross Sea and the one for East Antarctica by Australia and France. These will be discussed at the extraordinary meeting in July in Bremerhaven, Germany.

At the 2012 meeting, Russia, China and the Ukraine blocked efforts to put conservation in place. Previously, CCAMLR members committed to beginning to establish a network of MPAs in the Southern Ocean in 2012. There was no good scientific reason for not meeting that commitment.

The CCAMLR process requires the Science Committee to first review all proposals before bringing them for discussion and approval by the Commission members who take the policy decisions.

In the case of the two recent marine protection proposals for the Ross Sea and East Antarctica, the Science Committee had reviewed the science and passed them to the Commission for decisions. However, the nations that opposed the MPAs — China, Russia and the Ukraine, claimed that amendments in those proposals meant that they should be resubmitted to the Science Committee. The Chair of Science Committee stated that there was no new science to be considered and that the next step in the process was for consideration and decisions by the Commission. These proposals had been reviewed by scientists in the CCAMLR process and were ready for discussion and agreement in 2012, as a first step in establishing a network across the Southern Ocean.

Why did China, Russia and Ukraine oppose the proposals? Ms Donna Mattfield, European Coordinator, Antarctic Ocean Alliance, an environmental conservation group made up of 30 international organisations, in an email to this correspondent, notes: “We do not believe there is any good scientific reason not to agree to the proposals. With no solid scientific reason to delay the process, the motivations are likely political. The Antarctic Ocean Alliance would like all CCAMLR country governments to put politics to one side and seize the opportunity to conserve this unique wilderness for future generations.”

How is the meeting in Germany going to be different from what has been discussed in previous meetings including the last one in Hobart, Australia? Are there going to be revised or new proposals and compromises? If so, what are they? What are the chances for a positive outcome?

Ms Mattfield, notes: “There is a chance that the proposals will again be amended as part of this process and the Antarctic Ocean Alliance urges member nations to remember the conservation objective of the Commission and ensure that the proposals offer the protection needed.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance sincerely hopes that the member nations of CCAMLR can come together to honour their previous commitments and seize the opportunity to protect the ocean ecosystems in this amazing region.”

Three more new proposals are under development for future agreement. The further proposals are not ready yet for discussion in Bremerhaven, but nations are moving forward in their research and development.

The new proposals are:

Weddell Sea

This proposal would be led by Germany. Research in the Weddell Sea so far suggests that the seafloor harbours extraordinary biodiversity and habitat diversity. The Weddell Sea’s waters are also a haven for krill and all the predators that feed on them.

Antarctic Peninsula

CCAMLR members and experts met in Valparaiso, Chile between 28 May and 1 June 2012 to discuss the compilation of data that could lead to the establishment of an MPA or MPAs around the Antarctic Peninsula. Countries attending included Chile, Argentina, UK, USA, Norway, Japan and others. They have agreed to share data sets, and work towards a harmonized approach in the next 12 months but no further work has been scheduled.


Sweden offered to lead development of MPAs in the Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas region off of West Antarctica. The US and South Korea offered to support the Swedish effort with scientific information or scientific expertise or both.

It is imperative now that CCAMLR members seize the opportunity at the meeting in July 2013, to honour their commitments and maintain momentum towards a network of protection in the Southern Ocean.

AOA has identified over 40 per cent of the Southern Ocean that warrants protection in a network of large‐scale MPAs based on conservation and planning analyses, and including additional key environmental habitats.

Source: The Hindu

Image courtesy of NASA via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)