Environment: Some countries only paying lip service to Antarctica conservation

Legal analysis finds some countries are abusing an international conservation treaty to justify more Southern Ocean fishing

Increasing concentrations of CO2 could turn this Antarctic beach into a tropical zone. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

Will the world be able to agree on new protection for the Southern Ocean? @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Efforts to set aside protected ocean areas around Antarctica are faltering because some countries are willfully misinterpreting a legal treaty governing the use of resources in the region, according to a new analysis published in the journal Marine Policy.

At issue is the term “rational use” in an international treaty that governs the management of natural resources in the region. Even though the treaty is focused on conservation, some countries are twisting the term to justify unsustainable fishing, said the scientists and legal scholars who published their findings to coincide with a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources in Hobart, Tasmania.

The international organization is setting fisheries management rules for the Southern Ocean around Antarctica and also wants to take up the issue of creating vast new marine reserves — but those efforts have been blocked in recent years by Russia and China, who want the freedom to exploit resources unsustainably.

The treaty requires that fishing does not cause irreversible damage to the greater marine ecosystem. While defined in the text of the legal Convention, the term rational use is increasingly being interpreted to mean an unfettered right to fish. Even more surprising, countries such as China and Ukraine have recently invoked rational use to protest the adoption of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean.

“Our research into the treaty negotiation record shows that ‘rational use’ on its own did not have a clear, consistent, or objective meaning,” said lead author Jennifer Jacquet, an assistant professor in New York University’s Environmental Studies Program.

“In recent years, some countries have argued that MPAs interfere with their right to rational use,” Brooks said. “Yet adopting MPAs in CCAMLR waters is in complete accordance with stipulations of rational use, which require conservation of the fished species and the greater ecosystem in the Southern Ocean.”

Currently, the main species harvested in the Antarctic are Antarctic krill and Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish, also known on the market as the lucrative “Chilean sea bass.”

“The Southern Ocean is a global commons. As such, marine protected areas would allow CCAMLR member states to continue fishing while also ensuring a legacy for future generations,” Brooks said. “What could be more rational than that?”

Russia, China block Antarctica conservation plans

Proposals for vast marine preserves fail for the fourth time


Plans to protect the Antarctic environment are still on hold. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Russia and China have once again showed their unwillingness to participate in global efforts to protect the environment in Antarctica by blocking a plan to create new marine reserves off the shore of eastern Antarctica and in the Ross Sea.

Both countries are more interested in exploiting natural resources in the region than in establishing a collaborative framework for sustainable management of the fish and krill. Russia voted for the fourth time to block the proposal for new marine protected areas, while China opposed the plans for the first time. Continue reading

Russia blocks Antarctic conservation plans

International commission can’t reach agreement on proposals for new marine protected areas


A global push to protect marine resources around Antarctica was stymied by Russia and Ukraine during a special meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Russia may talk about cooperation on global conservation issues, but when push comes to shove, the neo-imperialist nation didn’t walk the walk when it had the chance to support creation of new ocean sanctuaries around Antarctica.

In the end, the Russian delegation to Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources challenged the group’s legal authority to create new marine protected areas in the Ross Sea and off the coast of eastern Antarctica. That means the special CCAMLR meeting called specifically to try and win consensus for the new preserves ended without conclusive action, leaving conservation groups disappointed.

The failure to reach agreement represents “the loss of an extraordinary opportunity to protect the global marine environment for future generations,” the Antarctic Ocean Alliance said in a statement after the end of CCAMLR’s session in Bremerhaven, Germany. Continue reading

Antarctica conservation group fails to reach deal

Proposals for Ross Sea, East Antarctica marine preserves falter at annual CCAMLR meeting; special session set for next summer in Germany

New preserves would protect biodiversity. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Proposals to create vast new marine preserves in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica floundered during the final stages of an international meeting in Hobart, Tasmania this week, as several major stakeholders couldn’t get completely comfortable with the procedural steps required to create those protected areas.

Despite the fact that there was no formal agreement, conservation advocates said there were some significant steps forward during the talks, according to Paul Gamblin, marine protected area manager for the WWF. Gamblin said several countries participating in the talks also needed a bit more time to understand the scientific basis for the far-reaching conservation proposals.

“As far as East Antarctica, it’s not that there was opposition to the idea … but some concerns about the detail and process, what fishing could happen where … there was some discomfort with the process around that,” Gamblin said. “Fishing is one of the issues on which countries want to be in a position where they want to be comfortable with the advice from scientists,” he said. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Antarctica: U.S. proposes huge Ross Sea marine preserve

Plan includes some fishing limits in critical zones but leaves other areas open to commercial exploitation

A leopard seal on an Antarctic ice floe. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

The Ross Sea is due south of New Zealand.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A proposed new conservation zone in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica could help preserve one the most productive and pristine ecosystems in the Southern Ocean.

The Ross Sea continental shelf encompasses one of the most productive ecosystems of the Southern Ocean — it’s one of the few places in the world that retains its full community of top-level predators. As such, it supports a unique community of species, including one-third of the world’s Adélie penguins, one quarter of the world population of emperor penguins, half of the Southern Pacific population of Weddell seals, and half of the world’s Ross Sea killer whales.

The U.S. will propose designating 700,000 square miles of the sea as a marine protected area during the upcoming meeting of the Antarctic conservation commission. Protection of the Ross Sea would recognize the area’s  unparalleled scientific research possibilities, high biological diversity, and as-yet intact ecosystems, which make it an area of tremendous conservation and scientific value for current and future generations. Continue reading


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