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?”

Climate: Melting Antarctic glaciers may boost ocean food chain

Study explores Southern Ocean nutrient cycle


Between hunts, a leopard seal snoozes on an ice floe in a polynya near the Antarctic Peninsula. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Melting Antarctic glaciers are adding nutrients to the Southern Ocean, potentially boosting the entire food chain. The Southern Ocean could become a more productive ecosystem as a result of climate change, scientists suggested in a new study accepted for publication in Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, an American Geophysical Union journal. Continue reading

Study eyes role of plankton in cloud formation

Southern Ocean research shows how plankton emissions brighten clouds

Clouds over Antarctica. @bberwyn photo.

Clouds over Antarctica. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Swarms of tiny plankton may play a bigger role in cloud formation than previously realized, scientists said after studying the Southern Ocean.

The new research shows that plankton produce airborne gases and organic matter to seed cloud droplets, which lead to brighter clouds that reflect more sunlight. Continue reading

Report shows growing impacts of ocean acidification

CU-Boulder scientists study document decline of calcification rates in marine organisms around Antarctica


The Southern Ocean may lose its ability to function as a carbon sink. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

*More Summit Voice stories on ocean acidification

FRISCO — The steady increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide is already causing large-scale shifts in the ocean carbon cycle, according to University of Colorado, Boulder scientists, who calculated the calcification rate of marine organisms in the Southern Ocean.

According to the scientists there has been a 24 percent decline in the amount of calcium carbonate produced in large areas of the Southern Ocean over the past 17 years. Continue reading

Study tracks blue whales across Southern Ocean

New data will help shape conservation efforts in the waters around Antarctica

Naval training exercises off the coast of California could pose a threat to endangered marine mammals.

Australian and New Zealand researchers have tracked blue whales across thousands of miles in the Southern Ocean to help inform conservation efforts. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — As a keystone species in marine ecosystems, blue whales have a significant impact in the ocean around Antarctica, but the population dynamics of the species in the region are still a mystery as the marine mammals recover from the decimation of the whaling era.

That may change following the recent six-week Australia-New Zealand Antarctic Ecosystem Voyage voyage, as researchers tracked the world’s largest creatures across thousands of miles of ocean, detecting their songs from as far as 750 kilometers away. Continue reading

Shifting Southern Ocean winds regulate pace of global warming


Southern Ocean winds and currents are key regulators of global temperature and carbon cycles.

Strengthening eddies drive heat deep into the sea

Staff Report

FRISCO — Shifting wind patterns across the Southern Ocean around Antarctica are having a big effect on the carbon cycle and on the heat transfer between the ocean and the atmosphere.

The changes are so profound that they are actually delaying the effects of global warming, according to a new study published in the Journal of Physical Research.

“Considering the Southern Ocean absorbs something like 60 percent of heat and anthropogenic CO2 that enters the ocean, this wind has a noticeable effect on global warming,” said lead author Dr Andy Hogg from the Australian National University Hub of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. Continue reading

Southern Ocean carbon cycle may be key climate driver

‘Changes in ocean carbon storage are important drivers of natural atmospheric CO2 variations …’


Melting icebergs along the shore of Dundee Island, near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The Southern Ocean’s carbon cycle may be a huge driver of climatic shifts between ice ages and interglacial periods, according to new research published last week in Nature.

The study shows that carbon stored in an isolated reservoir deep in the Southern Ocean re-connected with the atmosphere, driving a rise in atmospheric CO2 and an increase in global temperatures that may have helped end the global ice ages. Continue reading


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