Effort to establish world’s largest marine protected area in Antarctica Postponed….Again

25 July 2013 | Article

Talks to create the world’s largest marine protected area in Antarctica have failed as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) could not reach agreement due to critiques from state members Russia, Norway, China, and others. The proposals, discussed at a special session in Germany this month, call for networks of MPAs in the Ross Sea, proposed by New Zealand and the USA; and the Eastern Antarctic, proposed by Australia, France, and the European Union. The new protected areas, about 3.93 million square kilometres, would more than double the area of the world’s oceans that are protected.

IUCN has congratulated the member states of the Commission on its progress to date, but would like to see standards raised. “Over the years, the Commission has shown global leadership through its management of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica in marine conservation and the implementation of the ecosystem-based management approach,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “Unfortunately, CCAMLR has not acted to its own high standards, nor the world’s expectations. IUCN is highly concerned that the notion of arbitrary time-limits, the so called ‘sunset-clause’, on MPAs has been introduced into the CCAMLR MPA discussion. Such thinking is contrary to global standards, experience and scientific evidence, and does not advance our purpose.”

The failure to reach agreement follows the adoption of conservation measure 91-04 by the Commission, which recognizes that marine protected areas are necessary, particularly in areas where ecosystem health will be highly impacted by climate change and ocean acidification. “Permanence and persistence is particularly important in areas with fragile, slow growing, vulnerable species, such as in the Southern Ocean, or where ecosystem health and marine resources will be highly impacted by climate change, ocean acidification, and growing resource extraction activities,” says Dr. Martha McConnell, Manager of the Polar Programme for the Global Marine and Polar Programme.

There will be another opportunity to table the two proposals in October this year, at a CCAMLR meeting in Tasmania. If successful, the new marine protected areas would ban or limit fishing, protect important species such as seals, penguins, whales and Antarctic krill, which are the staple diet of many Southern Ocean species, and provide areas for scientific research. IUCN will continue to urge CCAMLR to embrace the well-established principals for protected areas and designate the Southern Ocean marine protected areas permanently.