February 16, 2023
Featured image: John Weller
(EAST ANTARCTICA) –
The East Antarctic region is distinctive and dynamic, yet less well understood than other regions of the Antarctic. The remote, extreme, cold areas of East Antarctica remain largely untouched by human intervention. However, increased human activities and associated infrastructure could have long-lasting effects on the environment. The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) is developing international campaigns to designate the East Antarctic marine protected area (MPA). The campaign focuses on building support for the designation by countries that are Members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). This plan includes raising the international profile of Antarctic conservation so that it remains a priority for decision-makers.
Mission Blue recognizes Claire Christian, Executive Director of ASOC, and Kimberly Aiken, Research and Policy Associate with ASOC as the Hope Spot Champions of the East Antarctic Hope Spot in recognition of their efforts to encourage continued international collaboration to protect Antarctica. ASOC also works with member organizations such as WWF in its role as Champion.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue says, “This is a place that has somehow miraculously escaped the impacts of human activity. It’s an ecologically rich area with seals, sea lions, whales, numerous kinds of sea birds, and of course, what lives under the sea which is totally connected to what is on the land.”
Christian describes efforts to enhance formal protection in the East Antarctic. “Many NGOs and even a growing number of national governments have embraced the goal of 30×30, that is, 30% of the ocean protected by 2030.” She continues, “However, achieving this goal will require designation of MPAs in high seas areas, including the Southern Ocean, as these areas comprise the majority of the global ocean.”
In 2011, CCAMLR formally divided the Southern Ocean into nine planning domains for the purposes of designating MPAs. CCAMLR committed to creating a representative system of MPAs in the Southern Ocean in 2009. Australia, which has historically conducted significant research in the region, initially proposed the East Antarctic MPA (EAMPA). Currently, the co-sponsors of the EAMPA proposal include Australia, the European Union and its Member States, India, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the USA, and Uruguay. If designated, CCAMLR and its Members will continue to manage the MPA, including implementing a research and monitoring plan.
The proposed MPA is within the Eastern Antarctic planning domain. Areas for protection were identified using spatial management data analysis tools, which analyzed biological and oceanographic data from the region to determine areas of ecological importance. Specific boundaries were selected based on this analysis and designed to achieve a wide variety of conservation objectives such as protecting foraging areas for key species, conserving biodiversity, and providing scientific reference zones to compare with areas outside the MPA. The current MPA proposal contains three sub-areas (known and scientific reference zones) within the Eastern Antarctic: MacRobertson, Drygalski, and D’Urville Sea-Mertz, each of which has boundaries set to achieve the specific conservation objectives of that area.
The East Antarctic is under threat due to global climate change. While climate trends in East Antarctica are unclear, changes in sea-ice conditions have been observed and ice sheets may be melting faster than previously thought. Rapid, human-induced climate change and warming waters contribute to cumulative effects in sea-ice reduction and reduced krill habitat, disrupting the food web.
The presence of sea-ice is essential for many species in East Antarctica. It’s an important nursery ground for key fish species including Antarctic silverfish, and some of the highest densities of krill in Antarctic waters are there. A reduction in sea-ice could have cascading effects throughout the entire ecosystem as krill are a critical food source for whales, seals, penguins and other fish. Increasing ocean acidification has great potential to affect many important marine species.
If the proposed EAMPA is adopted, additional protections would be put in place. Technically, the MPA would be a “multiple-use” MPA rather than a no-take area, but any allowed activities would have to be consistent with the objectives of the MPA. For example, longline fishing in areas with high benthic biodiversity may not be permitted since the MPA is trying to protect that biodiversity. Additionally, commercial finfish fishing will be prohibited at depths shallower than 550m and in all areas landward of the outer 550m depth contour. Krill fishing will not be allowed within the D’Urville Sea-Mertz zone. Dumping or the discharge of waste or other material in the EAMPA would also be prohibited, along with transshipment, except where vessels are engaged in emergency search and rescue operations.
‘“Peace and science” is the central motto of Antarctica, and international collaboration will be necessary to achieve everlasting protection”, describes Aiken. “We believe that international cooperation on ambitious environmental protection is still possible. This kind of hope and inspiration is desperately needed at a time when our planet is in crisis”, she 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.