IUCN unites its polar and marine work under one programme.
Fragile polar ecosystems require urgent attention particularly in the face of expanding human activities including shipping, tourism, fishing as well as oil and gas development.
The Global Marine and Polar Programme is encouraging and assisting countries, institutions and the private sector to conserve the integrity and diversity of the Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems.
Recent studies conducted in the Arctic concluded that ocean warming and loss of ice is expected to accelerate, exacerbating major physical, ecological, social and economic changes already underway. IUCN, together with partners, is exploring new ways to preserve and protect the Arctic marine environment in the face of new industrial activities.
Among the recent focus areas for Arctic conservation, IUCN has published a report on Natural Marine World Heritage in the Arctic Ocean. The report identifies seven globally significant marine sites in the Arctic Ocean that warrant protection and could potentially qualify for World Heritage status.
IUCN is also looking at the problem of microplastics in the Arctic. A recent study revealed that the Arctic is already a sink for microplastics transported from distant sources. Indeed, the Arctic Sea ice has been recently shown to contain a concentration of microplastics (mostly textile fibres) which far exceeds the ones previously reported in highly contaminated oceanic waters (plastic gyres).
IUCN has promoted special protection measures for the Bering Strait, a globally-important biodiversity hotspot and undertook a cooperative project to identify measures that could be adopted to protect important areas of the Bering Strait region, including ecologically and biologically sensitive areas (EBSAs) and to explore ways in which such measures might be implemented.
Antarctica plays an important role in influencing global climate and oceanic circulation; it is important for research and monitoring which can provide greater understanding of the natural environment and ecological processes, including those modified by human activity. Antarctica is threatened by the expansion of fisheries in the oceans around Antarctica and continued harmful levels of fishing impacts including overfishing of certain fish species, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, increasing interest in invasive species as well as bioprospecting.
IUCN uses its unique observer status at meetings of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to press for protection status for areas of high biodiversity value. Voices from the conservation community were finally heard in November 2016 with the announcement that the Ross Sea is to become the world's largest marine protection area.The historic and ongoing research in the Ross Sea provides a strong basis for establishing ecological baselines against which to measure future change. Incorporating research and monitoring best practices - as highlighted in the paper submitted by IUCN to CCAMLR (see above download) and including those already followed by CCAMLR - will facilitate a robust and effective research and monitoring plan for the Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area and set the standard for research and monitoring in future CCAMLR MPAs.