Upping the Pressure for MPAs Down Under

Ahead of the 2012 annual meeting of the international authority on Antarctic marine management, a new ocean conservation group, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, called for expanded marine protections in Antarctica. They specifically cite the Ross Sea’s importance as a place of great biodiversity and a key indicator area for climate change.

The proposed MPA would be the largest in the world—three and a half times bigger than the one proposed in Australia’s Coral Sea—totaling 3.6 million square kilometers (1.4 million sq. mi.), and would establish a no take zone over most of the Ross Sea, according to an announcement by the group Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA).

“The fate of the Antarctic’s Ross Sea is likely to be decided by 24 countries and the EU this year and the global public knows nothing about it,” said Alliance Campaign Director Steve Campbell.

From the Antarctic Ocean Alliance’s report: A Marine Reserve for the Ross Sea.

The alliance has A-list support, with the likes of oceanographer and OWOO Advisor Dr. Sylvia Earle, actor and UN Biodiversity Ambassador Edward Norton, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and 16 global environmental organizations including Greenpeace, WWF, and others. The group aims to raise public awareness, and pressure on regulators, with its “Join the Watch” campaign.

The existing governing body, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), has been criticized for its lack of transparency or strong marine protections, and on its own website admits it has no jurisdiction over whales or seals, the two largest marine animals in the area.

CCAMLR defers to the International Whaling Commission, which has banned commercial whaling, but still allows Japan and Norway to kill hundreds of whales per year for “research,” despite many reports revealing the whale meat ends up in commercial markets.

The Antarctic is a marine conservation priority because it hosts a huge array of species, and is still basically unharmed relative to other areas of the ocean.

It is, however, falling prey to more illegal and uncontrolled fishing as fish stocks continue to decline in the rest of the world’s oceans. Antarctic toothfish, called Chilean sea bass by marketers, is especially vulnerable to fishing pressure because it is slow-growing and highly sought by fish markets.

‘‘The waters of Antarctica have become attractive for industrial scale fishing because fish close to where people live really don’t exist in large numbers anymore,’’ Dr. Earle said.

Enforcement is very difficult in Antarctica because it is so distant, and subject to harsh weather. The potential for loss in this pristine ecosystem is great, not only to wildlife, but to humans. Two incidents point to the danger of increased fishing activity here: a Russian fishing vessel not equipped for Antarctic conditions was ruptured by ice and had to wait five days for rescue in December, and a Korean fishing boat lost three crewmembers in an on-board fire in January.

CCAMLR member countries meet later this year to discuss an array of proposals for new marine protections in the Southern Ocean. You can get involved on the AOA website, by signing their petition/sharing a message of support and following their campaign at #jointhewatch.


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