Vast Antarctic marine reserves in focus

2015-10-19 19:57
Environmentalist campaigners dressed as penguins outside the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources  annual talks in Hobart. ( ANTARCTIC OCEAN ALLIANCE, AFP)

Environmentalist campaigners dressed as penguins outside the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources annual talks in Hobart. ( ANTARCTIC OCEAN ALLIANCE, AFP)

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Sydney - Two vast marine sanctuaries proposed for Antarctica were being considered for a fifth time at international talks on Monday with campaigners saying they are imperative to protect one of the world's last untouched wildernesses.

The fate of the plans to shield critical areas of ocean around the frozen continent is in the hands of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which opened its annual meeting in Hobart.

The talks run until October 30, with both an Australian-backed East Antarctic scheme and a US-New Zealand bid for a protected zone in the Ross Sea blocked last year due to a lack of consensus among the 24 member countries and the European Union.

"CCAMLR members have a clear task to complete: to work together to create the Marine Protected Areas that Antarctica's waters and wildlife need," said Mark Epstein, executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition.

"CCAMLR promised that this protection would come by 2012, yet the process has been stalled for the last four meetings.

"Global leaders - many of whom are CCAMLR members - have a responsibility to take action now, ensuring these marine protected areas come into force at this meeting."

Environmentalists say the Southern Ocean is home to more than 10 000 unique species, including penguins, whales and colossal squid, as well as a region critical for scientific research.

Australia, France and the European Union first put forward a bid for a 1.9 million square kilometre Marine Protected Area encompassing seven stretches of the pristine continent in 2011.

But it was again knocked back last year with Russia and China citing geo-political issues and concerns about its size.

Compromises have been made with the current proposal for a 1.0 million square kilometre zone over four areas with some fishing and research allowed as long as conservation values are met.

Put aside differences

The Ross Sea plan has also been scaled down, to 1.25 million square kilometres, with 1.14 million square kilometres proposed as a "no take" zone in an area often referred to as the "Last Ocean" due to its pristine condition.

Both of them must win the support of all 25 members of CCAMLR - a treaty tasked with overseeing conservation and sustainable exploitation of the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean - to succeed.

"The Antarctic Treaty was signed at the height of the Cold War and dedicated the continent to peace and science. We urge members to act in the spirit of the Treaty, put aside differences, and protect these important areas," said Bob Zuur, head of WWF's Antarctic programme.

Australian Antarctic Division director Nick Gales, who is leading Australia's delegation, said ensuring the impacts of climate change were factored in to CCAMLR management decisions would also be a priority issue.

"Australia will be joined by Norway in proposing the establishment of a climate change focused group to provide information, advice and recommendations on how best to integrate climate change considerations into the work of the commission," he said.

Another key area of discussion includes the effective and sustainable management of fishing krill, a cornerstone of the Antarctic eco-system and the staple diet of many animals, including seals, whales, fish, squid, penguins and other seabirds.

"While current harvests are well below the total allowable catch set by CCAMLR, demands on the fishery are expanding as krill is increasingly recognised as a valuable resource in medical products and supplements, and as fish meal," said Gales.

Read more on:    antarctica  |  australia  |  marine life  |  environment

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