Proposed MPAs in Antarctica Would Bring World Closer to 30×30 Goal

Southern Ocean         Photo: Robert Pitman – National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Contributing Writer

An alliance of conservation groups has combined forces to advocate at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which manages the ocean around Antarctica, in favor of creating at its virtual meeting this year a trio of marine protected areas (MPAs) covering 1.5 million square miles, or 1% of the world’s ocean. These MPAs would ban industrial krill fishing, help preserve the region’s biodiversity, slow the effects of climate change, and bring the world closer to preserving 30% of the world’s ocean space by 2030. National Geographic wildlife photographer and co-founder of SeaLegacy, Cristina Mittermeier, said “If these three marine protected areas … [are] created at the same time, it would form the largest marine protection in the history of humanity.”

Why this Matters:  The Southern Ocean is vital in regulating the world’s climate — its “conveyer belt” of currents keep Antarctica cold while keeping the rest of the world warm. The Southern Ocean also absorbs heat and carbon, a huge factor in mitigating the effects of climate change.  In addition, the ocean surrounding Antarctica houses over 15,000 species.  Mittermeier, summed up the significance of these MPAs to Mongabay: “The way that Antarctica goes, so does the world. And the reason for protecting Antarctica is not just to protect krill, but to buy us time … because these protections will lend resiliency to the whole ocean system to buy us time while we curb emissions.”

Krill, Baby, Krill

Many of these species depend on a single food source: krill. But krill is currently under threat of overfishing since they’re used in omega-3 supplements and fish meal. Worse yet, global warming is melting the Antarctic ice where krill usually lay their eggs, depleting the population even more.  The three proposed MPAs would designate no-fish zones while leaving other areas available for regulated fishing, and protect krill populations from overfishing.  CCAMLR was originally created to manage krill fisheries  — it meets each year in Hobart, Australia, to negotiate total allowable catches for fisheries, and now it also has as a major work item the discussion of other matters related to Antarctica’s marine region, including the designation of MPAs.  In 2016, CCAMLR created a large MPA in the Ross Sea with a total ban on krill fishing thanks to a push by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Getting to 30×30

Currently, only 5% of the world’s oceans are protected with MPAs. Should the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) ratify these three MPAs, it would be a major step to achieving major climate goals laid out by the UN and the Convention on Biological Diversity. While the goal of protecting 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020 is looking increasingly out of reach, these MPAs would be a major step in the right direction.  However, the MPAs may encounter some pushback from China and Russia, who have fishing interests in these regions. China extracts about 50,000 metric tons of krill from the Southern Ocean annually, and Russia extracts 400 metric tons of toothfish.

To Go Deeper: Enjoy the whole story by Mongabay’s Elizabeth Claire Alberts — it is worth your time!

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