The Pew Charitable Trusts expressed disappointment that for an eighth consecutive year, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) ended its annual meeting without designating marine protections in the waters off East Antarctica. Member governments also failed to reach consensus on the designation of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula.
A United Nations special report released in September found that the Antarctic region is experiencing profound and rapid change, including warming ocean temperatures and acidification. To mitigate these impacts, the U.N. recommended that global leaders focus on increasing the number of marine protected areas in order to make ecosystems more resilient.
CCAMLR members, who had a unique opportunity at the Commission’s 38th annual meeting to be the first international body to act on the U.N.’s report, could have protected more than 3.2 million square kilometers of Southern Ocean waters by designating the three MPA proposals. Without these additional marine protections, critical foraging and breeding grounds for emperor and Adélie penguins, toothfish, crabeater seals, and many other species will remain threatened. The designations would also have significantly advanced a goal set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to protect 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030.
On the other hand, Pew was pleased that CCAMLR’s Scientific Committee endorsed plans for a long-term ecosystem-based management system for the Antarctic krill fishery that would provide resilience to warming and acidifying waters in the Southern Ocean. Member governments will monitor the status and dynamics of important features of the ecosystem, such as populations of predators and prey.
The Association of Responsible Krill harvesting companies (ARK), which represents 85 percent of the krill industry in the Antarctic, also announced that it will keep in place a voluntary fishing ban to which it committed in 2018. The decision to stop fishing for krill in large coastal areas during breeding and nesting times around the Antarctic Peninsula aligns closely with the boundaries of the proposed MPA in the region.
Andrea Kavanagh, director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean work with The Pew Charitable Trusts, issued the following statement: “It’s a positive step for CCAMLR’s Scientific Committee to endorse a plan for an ecosystem-based management system that will keep krill in the water for the species that depend on it, and the announcement by the majority of the krill industry to continue their voluntary fishing ban in critical foraging areas around the peninsula illustrates industry's commitment to marine protections in the region.
“But with a growing loss of biodiversity and threats from climate change, it’s disheartening that CCAMLR has failed to protect East Antarctic waters for the eighth consecutive year. Over this time, we have seen multiple breeding failures for Adélie penguin colonies, habitat loss throughout the region, a concentrated krill fishing effort, and the warmest Southern Ocean temperatures ever recorded. Scientists have been clear that MPAs are needed to make a warming and acidifying ocean more resilient.
“Unfortunately, government leaders failed to heed the U.N.’s immediate call to action on climate change and made no contribution toward protecting the Southern Ocean’s critical ecosystem and its vital function as a carbon sink, nor the goal of safeguarding 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030.”
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