Antarctica sanctuaries talks fail

November 16, 2015 12:00 am | Updated 02:02 am IST

Unfortunately, this year too the meeting of the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) ended without reaching an agreement on the establishment of the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

The goal of CCAMLR, now numbering 25 members (24 nations and the European Union), is to preserve marine life and environmental integrity in and near Antarctica. It meets every year in late October to deliberate on the establishment of MPAs in the Antarctic Ocean.

The marine protected areas are those where certain activities are limited or prohibited to meet specific conservation, habitat protection, or fisheries management objectives.

At stake are two key proposals — an MPA in the Ross Sea proposed by U.S. and New Zealand and the other, in the ocean surrounding East Antarctica continent proposed by Australia, France and the EU.

The creation of an MPA to protect 946,998 square km of East Antarctic waters would allow exploratory and research activities within the MPA if they are consistent with its objective — protection of biodiversity.

The Southern Ocean is home to more than 10,000 unique species including most of the world’s penguins, whales, seabirds, colossal squid and the remarkable Antarctic toothfish — the main target of fishing companies in the region.

The Southern Ocean is a crucial area for scientific research, both for studying how intact marine ecosystems function and for determining the impacts of global climate change.

The Ross Sea and East Antarctica proposals were put on the table in 2011, and 2012 respectively. They have both been stalled since October 2012, due to blocking actions by several countries, most notably Russia. A ray of hope in this year’s meeting is that China has joined with the US and New Zealand to support the Ross Sea proposal.

On the final day of this year’s CCAMLR meeting, New Zealand and the U.S. introduced the revised version of the Ross Sea MPA proposal. This new version of the proposal now includes a krill research zone on the western boundary of the MPA. 

When the revised proposal was introduced, Russia stated that they had continued concerns with the proposals which relate to research and monitoring, how to review the effectiveness of the MPA and how long the MPA would be in effect as well as concerns about some of the specifics related to the Krill Research Zone.

Dae Levine, Communications Director of Antarctic Ocean Alliance, noted in an email to this Correspondent: “From our perspective, it’s difficult to know exactly what is driving Russia’s reluctance to support these proposals.  Russia has identified what seems to be an evolving set of concerns which limit their ability to support the proposals.  We can’t speculate on why this is happening, but it’s clear that many modifications have been made to both the East Anatarctic Ocean and Ross Sea proposals when countries came ready to negotiate with clearly defined concerns.”   

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