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No East Antarctic Marine Park, Again

Emperor penguins
Emperor penguins

By The Maritime Executive 2019-11-03 18:08:59

For the eighth consecutive year, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) ended its annual meeting without designating marine protections in the waters off East Antarctica. Member governments also failed to reach consensus on designation of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula.

A United Nations special report released in September found that the Antarctic region is experiencing profound and rapid change, including warming ocean temperatures and acidification. To mitigate these impacts, the U.N. recommended that global leaders focus on increasing the number of marine protected areas in order to make ecosystems more resilient.

CCAMLR members, who had a unique opportunity at the Commission’s 38th annual meeting to be the first international body to act on the U.N.’s report, could have protected more than 3.2 million square kilometers of Southern Ocean waters by designating the three MPA proposals. 

The Pew Charitable Trusts voiced disappointment, saying without these additional marine protections, critical foraging and breeding grounds for emperor and Adélie penguins, toothfish, crabeater seals and many other species will remain threatened. The designations would also have significantly advanced a goal set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to protect 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030.

However, CCAMLR’s Scientific Committee endorsed plans for long-term ecosystem-based management of the Antarctic krill fishery which would provide resilience to warming and acidifying waters in the Southern Ocean. Member governments will monitor the status and dynamics of important features of the ecosystem, such as populations of predators and prey.

The Association of Responsible Krill harvesting companies, which represents 85 percent of the krill industry in the Antarctic, also announced that it will keep in place the voluntary fishing ban it committed to in 2018. The decision to stop fishing for krill in large coastal areas during breeding and nesting times around the Antarctic Peninsula aligns closely with the boundaries of the proposed MPA in the region.

A new survey has estimated that the size of the krill stock in the South Atlantic is 62.6 million tonnes. This is very similar to the krill stock size of 60 million tonnes determined by the last survey in 2000.

Also at the meeting, the Commission agreed to a new prohibition of the discharge of plastics and dumping and discharging of oil or fuel products from fishing vessels in the entire Convention Area. It also agreed to precautionary catch limits for all toothfish fisheries in the Convention Area.

The 38th CCAMLR meeting was held in Hobart, Australia. CCAMLR is a consensus-based organization consisting of 26 Members (25 countries and the European Union). It was established by an international treaty in 1982 with the objective of conserving Antarctic marine life while providing for rational use.