Russia and China block MPA establishment in the Antarctic’ Southern Ocean


June 27, 2023 – In a recent gathering of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), member states sought to break a six-year deadlock hindering the establishment of additional marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean. Regrettably, the meeting concluded without consensus as China and Russia resisted plans to safeguard vast stretches of the Antarctic Ocean.

The primary objective of the 27 CCAMLR member states was to approve the designation of three expansive MPA proposals in the East Antarctic, Weddell Sea, and Antarctic Peninsula. If realized, these proposed MPAs would safeguard approximately 1.5 million square miles of the Antarctic Ocean. This initiative aligns with the global commitment known as “30 by 30,” which aims to protect a minimum of 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030. The target was agreed upon by the 196 parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, Canada, last December.

The most recent MPA designated by CCAMLR was the Ross Sea region in 2016, encompassing a staggering 430,000 square miles, making it the largest protected area on Earth. In 2009, the Commission also placed 36,000 square miles of ocean surrounding the South Orkney Islands under protection.

CCAMLR, established in 1982 as a crucial component of the Antarctic Treaty System, carries the responsibility of safeguarding the Antarctic Sea. The Commission advocates for a precautionary approach in protecting this pristine region, which has spurred the endeavor to create marine protected areas.

However, China and Russia have impeded progress by demanding additional data. These two nations have consistently blocked the expansion of MPAs since Australia initially proposed the scheme in 2010, even after the proposal was scaled back in 2017.

“Scientific studies emphasize the increasingly urgent need to protect the Southern Ocean. Unfortunately, this special meeting concluded similarly to the previous six annual meetings, with two countries obstructing the collective will of the other 25 CCAMLR members to make headway in establishing a network of Southern Ocean MPAs,” expressed Andrea Kavanagh, Director for the Antarctic and Southern Ocean at the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project.

The Antarctic region currently faces significant ecological pressure due to climate change. Diminishing ice cover is causing notable alterations to the physical and living environment of Antarctica. For example, studies have indicated that the distribution of penguin colonies is shifting as sea ice conditions evolve.

“The presence of sea ice is vital to the life cycle of Antarctic krill. The creation of marine protected areas is of utmost importance, primarily for preserving biodiversity by relieving the stress of fishing in these regions,” emphasized Rodolfo Werner, scientific and political adviser to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC).

Efforts to protect the Southern Ocean through the establishment of MPAs remain in limbo as the stalemate persists. Despite the setback, proponents of conservation are determined to continue advocating for the preservation of this fragile ecosystem, emphasizing the urgency and scientific evidence supporting the creation of marine protected areas in the Antarctic region.

Source: Maritime Executive

Source Maritime Executive

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