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Vital need to protect Antarctic seas: groups aim for new protected areas

‘No other choice’: Groups push to protect vast swaths of Antarctic seas, Mongabay

  • A coalition of conservation groups is advocating for the establishment of three new marine protected areas (MPAs) in East Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula and the Weddell Sea, which would encompass 4 million square kilometers (1.5 million square miles) of the Southern Ocean, or 1% of the global ocean.
  • These proposals will be discussed at an upcoming meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which is due to take place online because of the pandemic.
  • Conservationists anticipate that China and Russia may not support these MPA proposals due to fishing interests in the region, although they are optimistic that the MPAs will eventually be approved.
‘……………… While Antarctica’s land mass is currently protected through the Antarctic Treaty (although this expires in 2048), vast swaths of its marine region are open to industrial fishing for species such as Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) and Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides). Conservationists say these fishing activities are endangering the Southern Ocean’s delicate marine ecosystem that hosts more than 15,000 species, and a region that plays a vital role in regulating the world’s climate.

A coalition of conservation groups, including Pew, ASOC, SeaLegacy, Antarctica2020, Ocean Unite, and Only One, are working together to advocate for the formation of three marine protected areas (MPAs) in East Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula, and the Weddell Sea. Together, these areas would protect about 4 million square kilometers (1.5 million square miles), encompassing 1% of the world’s ocean. That’s two and a half times the size of Alaska, and nearly three times the size of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaiʻi, which is currently one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries.

“If these three marine protected areas … [are] created at the same time, it would form the largest marine protection in the history of humanity,” Cristina Mittermeier, National Geographic wildlife photographer and co-founder of SeaLegacy, told Mongabay. “[It would be] a piece of good news that the planet needs.”

This is a matter of political will’

The body responsible for making decisions surrounding Antarctica’s marine region is the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), an international commission with 25 member states and the European Union, as well as 10 acceding states. Originally established to manage krill fisheries in the Southern Ocean, the commission meets each year in Hobart, Australia, to negotiate total allowable catches for fisheries, and to discuss other matters related to Antarctica’s marine region, including the designation of MPAs.

Any decision requires a consensus among all members, and proposals can take a long time to be approved. For instance, it took more than five years for the commission to approve a proposal to turn a region of the Ross Sea into an MPA, according to Werner. But it finally went ahead in 2016: now 1.55 million km2 (nearly 600,000 mi2)of the Ross Sea is classified as an MPA, with 1.12 million km2 (432,000 mi2) of the region fully protected from commercial fishing.

“In CCAMLR, everything is possible,” said Werner, who acts as an official observer and scientific representative at the commission. “You can have a proposal blocked for years like the Ross Sea, and then one day [it happens].”…………

The way that Antarctica goes, so does the world’

One of the most important species living in the Southern Ocean is krill. These tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans are the foodstuff for many species, such as whales, seals, penguins, squids, fish and seabirds. Without krill, the pelagic food web would entirely collapse.

Krill is also heavily harvested for human consumption, mainly for fish meal and omega-3 dietary supplements.

The establishment of the three proposed MPAs — which would include no-take zones, but also areas that would allow regulated fishing — would help protect krill populations from overharvesting and enable fishing activities to continue in other areas, Cousteau said. According to one study, MPAs help increase fish mass………

But it’s not just fishing that’s a threat to krill — climate change is wreaking havoc on the species as high temperatures melt the ice it vitally depends upon. ……..


October 22, 2020 - Posted by | ANTARCTICA, oceans

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