How to Create the World’s Largest Marine Sanctuary

If bureaucracy doesn’t get in the way, the Antarctic ecosystem may finally gain the protection it needs.

Oceans in Antarctica
The Jutulsessen mountain range in east Antarctica. (Staff Photographer/Reuters)
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

They’re not quite as secretive as the NSA, but chances are you’ve never heard of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), an organization that was established by international convention in 1982 with the objective of conserving Antarctic marine life.

Yet this group, which has voting membership in 24 countries, including the U.S., Russia and the United Kingdom, is contemplating the creation of the world's biggest marine sanctuary, which would be located in the Antarctic.

The Guardian notes that the area in question—the Ross Sea and coastal areas in East Antarctica—are home to “about a million pairs of Adélie penguins, more than a dozen species of whale, more than a third of the world's population of emperor penguins, abundant krill and fish species and the Ross Sea region's top predator—the toothfish.”

Blair Palese, Communications Director for the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA), tells TakePart, “The Southern Ocean really is what we'd call ‘global commons. And yet, CCAMLR is deciding their fate with virtually no public input other than what we can try to put before them as a collective of environmental, non-governmental organizations interested in strong conservation and a protection legacy that will benefit all.”

The AOA is a coalition of leading environmental organizations and individuals who are working together to achieve large-scale protection for key Antarctic ocean ecosystems.

The Guardian notes that the CCAMLR agenda for their meeting from July 11 to 17 has two proposals to create Marine Protected Areas (MPA). One is from Australia, France and the European Union; it would create seven MPAs in East Antarctica covering 1.63 million square kilometers.

Another, from the U.S. and New Zealand, would create a single MPA in the Ross Sea of about 2.3 million square kilometers.

But the newspaper notes a big caveat: CCAMLR is “a group that only passes ‘conservation measures’ on consensus, which means if one member is against a proposal then the whole thing falls over. There may need to be compromises if either of the plans are to be put in force.”

And in fact, in their 2013 report, “Antarctic Ocean Legacy: Securing Enduring Protection for the Ross Sea Region,” the AOA notes the U.S. and New Zealand previously presented a joint proposal for a Ross Sea MPA, but it didn’t achieve consensus in the Commission.

Still, the AOA remains undettered. Palese notes that, “The AOA has called for 19 key habitats in the Southern Ocean to be protected based on the science to date on key areas,” which is over 40 percent of the Southern Ocean.

The fate of the Antarctic oceans could be decided by the CCAMLR this July; if you're interested in helping to protect those waters, consider visiting the Antarctic Ocean Alliance site and adding your voice to their petition.

Do you think it's feasible to turn the Antarctic into a marine sanctuary? Let us know in the Comments.

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