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Marine Science


Pressure on world leaders to protect Antarctica is at an all time high

Pressure on world leaders to protect Antarctica is at an all time high 

1.5 million people called on world leaders to grasp an immediate opportunity to protect the future of our planet by protecting Antarctica today, as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) – the body responsible for Antarctic marine conservation – convened its 40th annual meeting.

The biological imperative to protect Antarctic waters, a global wildlife hotspot, has been apparent for decades. This year, eminent climate scientists joined the call by issuing an urgent request to CCAMLR member countries to address the biological and climate crisis in parallel. Specifically, they argued, agreement to designate three new large-scale Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in East Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula, and the Weddell Sea would protect nature, while increasing the durability of an ecosystem already heavily impacted by climate change.

According to the letter issued by the climate scientists, “Within the cold southern waters of the planet, there are clear science-based policy interventions that should be implemented by CCAMLR, to build resilience into ecosystems, giving nature the best opportunity possible to withstand the climate crisis—one of them being the implementation of a circumpolar network of marine protected areas.”

Over a million people, including scientists and world leaders, have joined forces to #CallOnCCAMLR to protect Antarctica,” said Claire Christian, executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC). “Just this month there are two major international UN meetings taking place seeking to solve the biodiversity and climate crisis. But CCAMLR should not be forgotten,” Christian added, “because it can immediately decide to implement three new MPAs which directly address both problems. Millions of animals from whales to penguins could be protected while at the same time resilience can be built into an ecosystem which is changing due to the climate warming at a faster rate than anywhere else,” concluded Christian.

Antarctica’s Southern Ocean is one of the world’s last great wilderness areas, surrounding the coldest, driest, windiest, and least altered continent. The ocean’s frigid waters bustle with predators that feed on large swarms of krill, a tiny shrimplike crustacean, and other forage species in the region’s delicate food web.

The current MPA proposals are based on sound science and will give Antarctica’s iconic wildlife the best chance of survival by providing safe regions to build their resilience to the impacts of climate change. We must protect the places they call home,” said Emily Grilly, Antarctic Conservation Manager at WWF.

To protect this spectacular region and the species that rely on it, CCAMLR has agreed to establish a network of large-scale MPAs around Antarctica.  But full designation has been stymied for the last several years because two of the 26 CCAMLR member governments have repeatedly failed to agree to the proposals.

“The addition of the U.S., South Korea, India, and Ukraine as co-sponsors of the East Antarctic and Weddell Sea MPA proposals, in the lead-up to this year’s CCAMLR meeting, shows that momentum is building towards consensus on establishing new protections,” said Andrea Kavanagh, who directs Antarctic and Southern Ocean conservation work for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Now, to prove their commitment to addressing the climate and biodiversity crises, it’s time for global leaders to stop delaying protections for this critical part of the world.”

Governments may think they have a choice between securing effective protection of Antarctic waters or delaying action once more. They don’t. Their choice must be acting on the climate emergency and creating ocean sanctuaries in one of the most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth. There’s no more time for words, for delayed meetings, or for protection that only exists on paper. Leaders around the world have pledged to protect Antarctic waters, and now is the time to show that they actually mean it” said Laura Meller, Ocean policy advisor with Greenpeace Nordic.