Failure for Antarctic marine reserves

penguins

There is no agreement yet on protecting the Southern Ocean’s wildife

Hopes have been dashed today as the meeting of Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) came to an end without any agreement on the establishment of marine reserves in the last great wilderness of the Antarctic. Government officials from across the world will try again in March.

Last week may have seen the release of data from NASA  showing that the Antarctic ice cover area is at record levels but there is no good news for the wildlife that inhabit this remote and beautiful area.

The CCAMLR meeting in Hobart, Australia, ended today without being able to establish large-scale marine protection areas around the Antarctic because there was resistance to closing vast areas of the region to fishing vessels. The main resistance was from Ukraine, Russia and China. [pullquote]The world has been watching CCAMLR this year in order to ensure it would agree on significant Antarctic marine protection but all they have achieved is an agreement to meet in six months time.[/pullquote]

Those countries opposed to providing protected areas to help conserve the varied wildlife in the region such as whales, penguins, seals and bird life were concerned that as northern fishing grounds became overfished and barren that they would be prevented from moving in to the southern oceans.

The plans had been to provide marine protected status for the Ross Sea and the Eastern Antarctic.  But after two weeks of discussion there was no agreement on how to go about protecting the wildlife and environment from overexploitation. The meeting agreed to a special session to be held in July 2013 in an attempt to find a way forward.

Conservationists are bitterly disappointed with the outcome as there was high hopes of a successful conclusion.

The expectation was high across the world for large marine protected areas to be created in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica in 2012.  We recognise the great efforts of those member nations that have invested so much in driving the MPA science programs and proposals.  After years of scientific work, and two weeks of intensive negotiations, to see the talks break down is greatly concerning,” said WWF spokesperson Paul Gamblin.

The decision to call an extra meeting of the Commission to deal with this issue next year demonstrates the gravity of the situation and gives us some hope that a breakthrough can still be found,” Mr Gamblin said.

WWF has directly supported years of scientific work to underpin rational MPA creation in the Southern Ocean. The special meeting in 2013 must be the last word on the proposals for the Ross Sea and East Antarctica.  Then the work must continue on the rest of the MPA network. Time is slipping away.

The proposed marine protection areas were hard-fought for particularly by countries such as United States, European Union, France, Australia and New Zealand throughout the two weeks of meetings but unfortunately they were unable to secure the number of votes needed to ensure that the sites were established.

CCAMLR is made up of 24 nations plus the EU who have an interest in the southern oceans. Had the plans been successful then an area of 1.6 million square kilometres of the Ross Sea,  and 1.9 million square kilometres of coastal area in the East Antarctic would have gain international protection.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance NGO were disheartened with the outcome of the meeting. “The world has been watching CCAMLR this year in order to ensure it would agree on significant Antarctic marine protection but all they have achieved is an agreement to meet in six months time,” said the AOA’s Steve Campbell. “CCAMLR members failed to establish any large-scale Antarctic marine protection at this meeting because a number of countries actively blocked conservation efforts.”

Today I am feeling sad and angry,” said Jim Barnes, Executive Director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC). “My first CCAMLR meeting was during the negotiation of the Convention in 1980 and I have followed its evolution since. CCAMLR has prided itself on being in the forefront of marine conservation but this year has been unable to honour important commitments. This responsibility, and this failure, rests with all Members.”

The AOA and all of the 30 organisations that we work with will redouble our efforts over the next year to ensure that CCAMLR lives up to its commitment to build a system of Antarctic marine reserves and marine protected areas that protect these pristine regions for future generations,” AOA’s Steve Campbell said.

Senior officer at the Pew Environment Group, Gerry Leape explained,   “This is a resounding disappointment for the conservation of the Ross Sea [and East Antarctica], and for science.  In 2011, CCAMLR countries agreed to work together to protect and conserve the unique marine life that thrives in the ocean surrounding Antarctica. Instead, they are heading home and leaving the door wide open to unchecked commercial fishing in these special areas.”

 The plans had attracted wide scale publicity in the run up and during the meeting with celebrities including Leonardo di Caprio backing public petitions calling for greater protection and conservation in the region.

Getting support and overcoming objections to the Antarctic marine protection areas is essential if the international community are to be successful in setting aside 10% of the world’s oceans for conservation. The 10% committment was made in 2010 when just 4% of the planets oceans was protected for the wildlife and inhabit the seas.

External sites:

World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Antarctic Ocean Alliance.

PEW Environment Group.