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Save Antarctic life with protected zones, urges report


May 21 2012 Lewis Smith


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Antarctic toothfish

Rob Robinson

A huge swathe of the waters off Antarctica must be protected from fishing and other industries, a report urges.

More than 40 per cent of the region needs to be given protection before, as one of the world’s last true frontier regions, it is damaged irreparably by human activity, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) believes.

The group has identified 19 “key Antarctic marine habitats” that it believes must be protected as part of the largest network of marine protected areas ever created, and is urging the UK government to throw its weight behind the proposals.

Steve Campbell, the AOA’s co-ordinator said the fact the UK has already taken a lead in creating protected areas in the Southern Ocean makes it an ideal champion. “The UK Government has already demonstrated leadership with regards to protecting Antarctica’s Southern Ocean by proposing the world’s first MPA located entirely in the High Seas, the Southern Orkney Islands Southern Shelf MPA, which was adopted by CCAMLR [the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources],” he said.

“The AOA is calling on the UK Government to maintain and enhance this momentum at CCAMLR this year and support our call for the world’s largest network of MPAs and no-take marine reserves in the oceans around Antarctica as a legacy for future generations.”

The 19 areas the AOA wants to see protected are the Antarctic Peninsula, the Weddell Sea, the South Orkney Islands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands Arc, Maud Rise, Bouvetøya, the Ob and Lena Banks, the Kerguelen Plateau High Seas Area, the Banzare Bank, the Kerguelen Production Zone, the Eastern Antarctic Shelf, the Indian Ocean Benthic Environment, the Ross Sea, Pacific Seamounts, the Balleny Islands, Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas, and Peter I Island.

The AOA, a coalition of conservation groups including the Blue Marine Foundation, Fish2fork’s sister organisation which was behind the creation of the world’s single largest marine reserve around the Chagos Islands, put forward its proposals in the report Antarctic Ocean Legacy: A Vision for Circumpolar Protection.

It argues that Antarctic marine ecosystems are under increasing pressure, including the rising demands of the fishing industry in the region, which threaten the health of animal populations such as penguins, whales, seals, fish and krill.

In the report it noted that the Southern Ocean accounts for 10 per cent of the world’s seas yet less than 1 per cent of it is “strictly protected” despite being home to vast numbers of animals, many of them vulnerable to interference.

“Although often depicted as a frozen region dominated by breathtakingly beautiful but sterile glaciers, Antarctica is bursting with life – but mostly marine life. Below the icy ocean surface, bright-colored seastars, sponges and other bottom-dwelling creatures of all shapes and sizes blanket the seafloor.

“Strange fish, with clear white blood and anti-freeze in their bodies, lurk throughout the water column. On the surface, penguins, flying seabirds, seals and whales abound amidst the ice, foraging in krill-rich waters. The Antarctic truly remains one of the world’s last wild frontiers.”

And the conservation coalition warned that further overfishing of the region could be disasterous: “Past overexploitation has lingering effects, with most whales, as well as many fish species, having yet to fully recover.

“The current protective measures in place are insufficient to adequately conserve the unique Southern Ocean ecosystems and biodiversity. No-take marine reserves and MPAs will help minimize, or even eliminate, some of the most pressing threats to the Southern Ocean ecosystem.

“While a single MPA or no-take marine reserve can protect areas of local importance, a network has the power to ensure better resilience in the Southern Ocean ecosystem. A network can protect all representative habitat types.”

Protecting the large areas of the region will help prevent a repeat of overfishing that since the 1960s has devastated several species of fish, such as marbled rockcod which by the 1990s had declined by 95 per cent. Patagonian toothfish, marketed as Chilean sea bass, were similarly targeted and by the mid 1990s there were catches of more than 100,000 tonnes annually. “This caused severe declines in local populations of Patagonian toothfish and fishery closures ensued,” the report stated.


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