Momentum builds to protect Southern Ocean – Australia’s Antarctic Program (News 2021)
The creation of a network of protected areas in the Southern Ocean that properly represents and conserves its ecological diversity is a further step.
Last night, a ministerial declaration from a high-level meeting hosted by the European Union called for urgent international action “to conserve the biodiversity and unique ecosystems of the Southern Ocean for present and future generations”.
15 countries and the European Union came together at an online conference on April 28 to affirm their commitment to protect the Southern Ocean from climate change and other human impacts.
Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley was the first speaker at the meeting which included senior representatives from France, Germany, Norway, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Chile, of Argentina and the Presidential Climate Envoy of the United States of America.
All 15 countries and the European Union are members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, known as CCAMLR.
Australian Commissioner to CCAMLR Gillian Slocum said the meeting had given momentum to the establishment of a representative system of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean.
“The meeting, initiated by the EU, agreed to encourage the 26 members of CCAMLR to constructively engage with the MPA proposals currently under consideration.”
“Australia will continue to play a leading role in establishing a representative system of MPAs in the Southern Ocean, including East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea,” Ms. Slocum said.
Antarctic Network of Marine Protected Areas
In 2009, CCAMLR established its first MPA, the South Orkney Islands Southern Shelf Marine Protected Area, an area covering 94,000 square kilometers in the southern Atlantic Ocean.
In 2016, CCAMLR members agreed to create a new MPA in the Ross Sea region. Covering 1.55 million square kilometers, the Ross Sea region MPA is the largest in the world. Almost three quarters of the area is a “no-fishing” zone which prohibits all fishing.
Since 2012, Australia, along with the European Union, has advocated for the adoption of an East Antarctic MPA. Norway, the United Kingdom and Uruguay are now co-sponsors of the proposal.
“The East Antarctic MPA would protect distinctive deep-water reefs and feeding grounds for marine mammals, penguins and other seabirds,” Ms. Slocum said.
It would also provide scientific reference areas to help understand the effects of fishing outside protected areas and the consequences of climate change on the ecosystems of the Southern Ocean.
Large-scale MPAs are also an important tool for strengthening the resilience of oceans and ecosystems to the impacts of climate change.
Australia is also a co-sponsor of the Weddell Sea MPA and supports Argentina and Chile in establishing an MPA in the Antarctic Peninsula region.
Australian science on Antarctica, a catalyst
Australian Antarctic Division Director Kim Ellis said CCAMLR is a great example of the application of science to ensure evidence-based environmental protection.
“Our science has a direct impact on policy outcomes for a range of management issues in the Southern Ocean, from setting catch limits for krill fisheries to the design of marine protected areas.”
“It is important that CCAMLR’s proposals are based on the best available science, and that is what Australia’s Antarctic program provides,” said Mr Ellis.
The AAD Deputy Chief Scientist, Dr Dirk Welsford, is currently Chairman of the Scientific Committee of CCAMLR.