Antarctica conservation talks start Monday

Major marine conservation initiatives on the table

Several proposals for large-scale Antarctic conservation areas will be discussed this coming week at the CCAMLR talks in Hobart, Tasmania. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —With scientists observing significant changes in Antarctica’s physical and biological systems, nations from around the world start meeting Oct. 22 to consider a number of far-reaching conservation proposals for the Earth’s only continent that isn’t claimed by any one country.

One of the plans to be presented at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources comes from Australia, France and the European, and would create a total of 1.9 million square kilometers of marine protected areas in East Antarctica. Some of the areas would serve as reference areas against which to measure the impacts of future climate change.

Recently, scientists have been monitoring fundamental changes in ocean currents around Antarctica that are key drivers of global ocean circulations that regulate climate. Changes are also being observed in parts of the massive Antarctic ice sheet.

Other pressures come from fishing for toothfish and krill — in fact one proposal for Ross Sea protection fell apart when New Zealand opposed protection for areas important to commercial fishing operations.

The leader of the Australian delegation to CCAMLR and Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Tony Fleming, said that proposal includes areas along the east Antarctic coast which will regulate activities to conserve the biodiversity and values of the areas.

“The MPAs will protect those parts that are vulnerable to disturbance and which play an important ecological role such as providing krill and toothfish nurseries, and marine mammal and penguin foraging areas,” Dr. Fleming said.

“Three of the seven areas are proposed as scientific reference areas to gauge the future impacts of climate change on the productivity and ecology of the region.

“The proposal recognises that rational use of marine living resources can be conducted in the CCAMLR Area but will need to be specially managed to ensure that the conservation values are protected.”

Only activities that are assessed to be consistent with the objectives of the MPAs would be approved by CCAMLR and this may include fishing activities in some parts of the MPAs.

Dr Fleming said that this proposal has been in development since 2010 and provides a balanced outcome, protecting high conservation value areas, while allowing sustainable fishing in other parts of east Antarctica.

“Its science has already been endorsed by the CCAMLR Scientific Committee, a necessary step before it is considered by the Commission.

“The decision-making process requires consensus across the CCAMLR member countries to adopt the MPAs.

“CCAMLR has been working towards a network of Southern Ocean MPAs by 2012,” Dr Fleming said.

Other MPA proposals being considered at this CCAMLR meeting are for the Ross Sea and for ice shelves in the Antarctic Peninsula region.

The seven MPAs that make up the representative system proposed by Australia, France and the EU are Gunnerus, Enderby, MacRobertson, Prydz, Drygalski, Wilkes and Mertz.

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