The Ross Sea and other Antarctic marine ecosystems are under increasing pressure, but proposals to turn them into marine sanctuaries failed this week to gain an international body’s approval.Image: Flickr/Barry Thomas
Ambitious plans to protect millions of square kilometers of Antarctic seas have been sunk by a surprise legal objection from Russian diplomats.
There was widespread hope that new reserves in the Ross Sea and in East Antarctica would be approved this week at an international meeting in Bremerhaven, Germany. The plans had the backing of scores of scientists, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governments including the United States, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and would have safeguarded species including penguins, seals and fish (see: Bid to protect Antarctic waters gets second chance). Fishing vessels are increasingly targeting Antarctic waters.
The proposal to protect the Ross Sea originated from the United States and New Zealand and would have banned fishing in 1.6 million square kilometers of sea, creating the world’s largest marine reserve and also establishing a special zone for scientists to research the impact of climate change and other changes in the region. A separate proposal championed by Australia, France and the European Union would have created seven protected areas off the east coast of Antarctica.
But today at the meeting the Russian delegation questioned the very authority of the Commission for the Conservation on Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which regulates fishing in Antarctica, to create reserves, several participants said. To establish any reserve requires the agreement of all 25 members.
This has enraged NGOs, who pointed out that CCAMLR has already created one such ‘marine protected area’ and that all of the commission’s members had previously agreed in principle that it should create such zones. NGO representatives accused Russia of coming in bad faith to the meeting, which was convened specifically to discuss the marine reserves after they were not agreed to at another meeting last year.
“Everyone here is very disappointed,” says Steve Campbell, campaign director at the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, a coalition of groups pushing for more marine protection in the region. “There is no doubt CCAMLR has authority to establish these areas.”
Campbell says he still has faith in CCAMLR’s ability to effectively manage the frigid southern waters, but admitted it had “staked its reputation” on the issue. The two proposals will be considered again at the organization’s annual meeting in Hobart, Australia, in October.
Although there is hope that they may be approved there, Russia’s hardline approach to this week’s meeting casts a long shadow, and raises serious doubts about the chances of approval in Hobart.
Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Southern Ocean Sanctuaries campaign run by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-governmental organization based in Washington DC and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, told Nature she was “frustrated and sad” at the outcome in Bremerhaven.
“This objection from Russia is out of the blue,” she says. “It’s going to need some high level diplomatic outreach to Russia [to resolve].”
Further Protection for Antarctica
Antarctica is this planet’s only continent wholly protected from mining and other economic activity, save tourism — a place where nature, not commerce, rules. But protection ends at the water’s edge. While the land mass itself is pretty much a biological desert, Antarctic waters are full of life, especially krill, which has drawn the attention of international fishing fleets over the past decade. In fact, the Antarctic Ocean is one of the most intact marine ecosystems on the planet, and one of the most fragile. Now is the time to protect it for good.
The United States and New Zealand have put forward excellent proposals to create two major marine reserves. The proposals are under discussion at a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (theinternational body that governs Antarctic waters) now under way in Bremerhaven, Germany. The proposals would protect some 600,000 square miles of ocean in the Ross Sea and an additional 733,000 square miles off the East Antarctic coast. All told, these marine reserves, where fishing would be prohibited, are about the size of all the marine reserves created so far around the world.
The biggest obstacle is Russia, which has expressed resistance to these reserves. It is joined by Ukraine, China and Japan. Their hope is to manage fishing in the Antarctic much as it is managed elsewhere, with limits and restrictions. But the state of fisheries around the globe makes it clear that the most effective antidote to declining fish populations is the creation of totally protected marine reserves.
The Obama administration has expressed strong support for the idea of such protections in Antarctica, and many delegates to the Bremerhaven meeting are hopeful that sooner or later the Russians and other opponents can be brought on board. But when it comes to protecting ecosystems, sooner or later often means later, which often means too late. The time to protect the Antarctic Ocean is now.
DiCaprio, Cameron, Branson: Protect Antarctic Ocean
Writing in the Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, DiCaprio and Grigory Tsidulko of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance note that “the Southern Ocean is one of the most unique and special places on the planet,” and “has remained, until now, relatively untouched because it is so remote and inhospitable. But even that is changing as humanity moves to exploit these last wild and remote places.”
Such exploitation includes, particularly, fishing for krill and, more immediately, Patagonian toothfish (generally marketed by the more palatable-sounding name of Chilean sea bass). According to the Lenfest Ocean Program, overfishing appears to be causing declines in the toothfish in part of its range; because of that, because of concerns over the potential impact on the Antarctic marine ecosystem of krill fishing, and because of the desire to protect waters that sustain three-quarters of marine life worldwide, member nations of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) submitted proposals to establish a pair of marine protected areas at the organization’s annual meeting last October.
One such MPA, proposed by the United States and New Zealand, would cover 2.3 million square kilometers of the Ross Sea, including a “fully protected” area of 1.6 million square kilometers (600,000 square miles); if adopted, it would be the largest marine reserve in the world and would almost double the documented area of fully protected ocean worldwide. The second — proposed by Australia, France and the European Union — would designate seven marine protected areas in East Antarctica covering about 1.63 million square kilometers. The fully protected area of the Ross Sea MPA would ban fishing and other extractive activities; the East Antarctica MPA would not technically ban fishing but none is presently being conducted there, and the proposal would require a consensus of CCAMLR to allow fishing to begin within its boundaries.
The proposals received widespread support at the October meeting, but because CCAMLR operates under consensus, it required only one of the 25 members to object for their objection to be stymied – and, in the event, more than one did. So on Monday and Tuesday, CCAMLR delegates are gathering in Bremerhaven, Germany for a special meeting to consider the proposals anew (beginning on Thursday, CCAMLR’s scientific committee discussed the ecological benefits of the reserves).
One of the key holdouts to this point has been Russia, which is why DiCaprio took to the pages of Rossiyskaya Gazeta to argue that “success in Antarctica needs leadership from Russia, President Putin and the world community.” That was echoed by Branson and Cameron who, in an open letter co-signed by ocean explorers Dr. Sylvia Earle, Jean-Michel Cousteau and Capt. Don Walsh, wrote that “Russia has a critical leadership role to play in determining the future of Antarctica. We hope that with your leadership Russia will support the Ross Sea and East Antarctica marine protected area proposals at the Bremerhaven meeting this week.”
Russia, though a pivotal figure, is not the only one yet to be fully persuaded of the merits of the proposal. Its neighbor, Ukraine, is another. So, too, is Norway, which is traditionally a robust defender of the Antarctic environment (and is one of seven countries — along with the United Kingdom, France, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile — to claim a slice of Antarctic territory) but which in this instance is has been largely silent other than to propose the addition of a “sunset clause” under which both reserves would ultimately expire.
The reserves’ advocates have been resolute in their desire to see the MPAs adopted. Australian environment minister Mark Butler said that “Australia is very proud to stand behind this proposal,” while US Secretary of State John Kerry has been unequivocal in his support.
Source: Live science
Editorial: SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras
Gustavo López Ospina
Pieter Jan Brouwer
Assistant: Emilia Romero
The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice is associated with the International Environmental Mission, a grass roots citizens movement created by Chilean Senator Juan Pablo Letelier.
SELVA Vida Sin Fronteras acknowledges Kevin Schafer’s important contribution towards protecting the highly endangered Amazon pink fresh water dolphin. Title photographs of our “The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice” were taken by Mr. Schafer.