‘No other choice’: Groups push to protect vast swaths of Antarctic seas
Author: Elizabeth Claire Alberts
- A coalition of conservation groups is advocating for the establishment of three new marine protected areas (MPAs) in East Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula and the Weddell Sea, which would encompass 4 million square kilometers (1.5 million square miles) of the Southern Ocean, or 1% of the global ocean.
- These proposals will be discussed at an upcoming meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which is due to take place online because of the pandemic.
- Conservationists anticipate that China and Russia may not support these MPA proposals due to fishing interests in the region, although they are optimistic that the MPAs will eventually be approved.
As a child, Rodolfo Werner used to dream about Antarctica — that vast, white continent with no fixed human population, and surrounded by icy seas teeming with krill, whales and penguins. In 2006, his dream became a reality when he started working in Antarctic marine conservation and traveled to the continent as a guide. Since then, he’s visited Antarctica more than 20 times, and the place never ceases to amaze him, he said.
“Antarctica catches you when you’re there,” Werner, now a senior adviser at Pew Charitable Trusts and the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), told Mongabay. “It changes your way of seeing nature because … [it] is so huge and [has] so much wildlife, and it really touches your soul. Every person that goes to Antarctica, when they come back, they are different.”
While Antarctica’s land mass is currently protected through the Antarctic Treaty (although this expires in 2048), vast swaths of its marine region are open to industrial fishing for species such as Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) and Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides). Conservationists say these fishing activities are endangering the Southern Ocean’s delicate marine ecosystem that hosts more than 15,000 species, and a region that plays a vital role in regulating the world’s climate.
A coalition of conservation groups, including Pew, ASOC, SeaLegacy, Antarctica2020, Ocean Unite, and Only One, are working together to advocate for the formation of three marine protected areas (MPAs) in East Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula, and the Weddell Sea. Together, these areas would protect about 4 million square kilometers (1.5 million square miles), encompassing 1% of the world’s ocean. That’s two and a half times the size of Alaska, and nearly three times the size of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaiʻi, which is currently one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries.