Antarctic marine protection bids fail – Expert reaction

Two proposals to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Antarctic waters have failed to be adopted by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) at its annual meeting in Hobart.

Proposals for MPAs in the Ross Sea and the East Antarctic coastal region were discussed, but the required final consensus by CCAMLR’s member nations was actively blocked, reports Reuters.

In the case of the Ross Sea, an expanded proposal put forward by the US and New Zealand secured China’s support, but was blocked by Russia. In the case of East Antarctica, both China and Russia blocked its adoption.

MPA map

Proposed MPAs (click here for full infographic). Credit AOA.

The SMC collected the following expert commentary.

Assoc Prof Mark Costello, Institute of Marine Science, University of Auckland, comments:

“I am disappointed at this decision. I applaud the CCAMLR approach to try to reach consensus. No country owns these areas and resources but they have agreed to be responsible to care for them for future generations. It is thus appalling that after several years of negotiations that any country would object to having some areas that are left as natural as possible.

“In addition to providing species with a safe-haven, such areas could benefit fishery management by providing a reference or control site so the direct effects of fishing on target species, and indirect effects on food webs and ecosystems, could be monitored.

“A more precautionary approach would be to protect the entire Southern Ocean and then negotiate where and what kind of fishing would be allowed based on its economic (e.g., no government subsidies) and environmental sustainability.

“I hope common sense and wisdom will prevail such that we will see agreement by all countries to have several large Marine Reserves in the Southern Ocean within the next year or two.”

Assoc Prof Costello is not available for further comment.

Dr Alan Hemmings, Adjunct Associate Professor, Gateway Antarctica, University of Canterbury, comments:

“Notwithstanding designation of the first Antarctic MPA in 2009, agreement to a general framework for MPAs in 2011, and intense scientific, diplomatic and high level political efforts over many years, CCAMLR has been unable to reach agreement on any actually proposed MPA since.

“The process has revealed quite considerable differences between Member states’ understanding of CCAMLR’s (and perhaps the wider Antarctic Treaty System’s) purposes, which will not easily be resolved. Plainly, in relation to Russia, it also reflects difficulties entirely outside the Antarctic, and these simply cannot be resolved in the Antarctic fora.

“My judgement is that the negotiation of large MPAs within CCAMLR has run its course, and agreement to a substantive MPA there is unlikely for some years, pending resolution of key issues elsewhere. It may now be more useful to tackle the generic difficulties around MPAs in a global, rather than regional, context through some sort of implementing agreement to the Law of the Sea Convention, along the lines of the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement.”

Professor Karen Scott, Professor in Law, University of Canterbury, comments:

“I don’t think the situation is intractable and I think the positive steps taken by China and Russia in respect of the Ross Sea proposal moves us closer to establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in 2016.  International developments including the designation of other MPAs on the high seas (such as in the North East Atlantic by the OSPAR Commission) demonstrate that states are becoming increasingly supportive of area protection in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).

“Moreover, the resolution by the UN General Assembly in June 2015 to officially start negotiations for an Agreement to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will help to resolve some of the legal difficulties around establishing MPAs in ABNJ, removing the obstacles that have been raised by Russia in respect of the Ross Sea MPA.”