January 10, 2023
Antarctica’s Ross Sea represents the idyllic vision of Earth’s southernmost continent – boundless landscapes of ice glimmer under the sun and penguins stand tall on the edge of glacial cliffs. Under the waves, species like seals, whales and toothfish can be found, along with many species only found in the Ross Sea, and more yet to be described by science.
Scientists believe that the Ross Sea is one of the last remaining undisturbed marine ecosystems in the world. In 2016, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) adopted the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA), making the region the world’s first large-scale, high seas MPA covering 2.09 million square kilometers. “This act showed the world that we can do remarkable things — reaffirming the value of cooperation, peace, science, and conservation in Antarctica”, describes Kimberly Aiken, Research and Policy Associate at the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC).
Mission Blue recognizes John Weller, Senior Fellow at Only One and Claire Christian, Executive Director of ASOC as the Hope Spot Champions of the Ross Sea Hope Spot in recognition of their efforts to encourage continued international collaboration to protect the Ross Sea. Mission Blue is proud to announce its membership in ASOC in late 2022.
Beyond the sparkling, frozen horizons of the Ross Sea looms a danger – a rapidly changing global climate and increased ocean acidification. The Ross Sea is predicted to be the last part of the Southern Ocean with year-round sea ice, but the ice continues to melt. Scientists are actively trying to measure these changes and how they are impacting the ecosystem. While commercial fishing is currently prohibited in most of the Ross Sea region MPA, fishing for toothfish does occur outside the boundaries of the MPA and is allowed to a limited extent in the research zones of the MPA. This fishery currently takes approximately 3,000 tons of fish per year with up to 12 different countries participating. Weller warns that strong fisheries management in tandem with active research, monitoring and enforcement of the MPA will be required to prevent ecosystem impacts from fishing.
“In order to secure long-term protection for the Ross Sea, it’s important that as time goes on that we continually assess how the MPA is functioning and determine if it’s functioning within the current fisheries management,” Weller explains.
The MPA has active research and monitoring by several CCAMLR Member States and government institutions, including the United States, New Zealand, Italy, Australia, Korea, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, Spain and France. These efforts will feed into the MPA’s 5-year reporting requirements and 10-year review requirements which will be used to inform any future modifications needed for meeting the goals of the MPA. Some of this research is supported at least in part by ASOC and its member groups.
“We seek to ensure this monitoring continues, but we need all hands on deck, and as many nations on board as possible”, Aiken says. “ Antarctica needs greater protection if we want to preserve the ecosystem and marine life that depend on it.”
The Champions’ goals for the Hope Spot include continuing to provide platforms for public engagement with the MPA. Dr. Sylvia Earle famously says, “If we don’t know, then we can’t care”, demonstrating the importance of visual storytelling and how powerful it is in inspiring hope from individuals all over the world.
“The Ross Sea region MPA is a global treasure that belongs to the whole world. Working together as a global effort is what it will take to achieve everlasting protection.” Weller concludes.
The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) was founded in 1978 by environmental campaigners concerned about the future of resource extraction in Antarctica. ASOC is an umbrella organization that represents a wide variety of environmental groups large and small. ASOC works internationally, with member organizations, staff and campaigners based in 10 countries. The work of ASOC is advanced in two main international fora: The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), of which ASOC is an official observer. ASOC carries out a wide variety of activities, ranging from public awareness, policy/science workshops, and advocacy with Antarctic Treaty System governments. ASOC represents the unified voice of the global environmental community and continues to be the NGO voice for Antarctic environmental protection.
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