EU pushes creation of Antarctic MPA | Polarjournal
The Ross Sea area of East Antarctica is home to Antarctica’s largest penguin colonies. Primarily Adélie penguins live here, attracted by the great abundance of food in the region. They go far out to sea and use ice floes as resting places. Picture: Michael Wenger

The creation of large marine protected areas around Antarctica has been discussed at meetings of Antarctic Treaty Parties in recent years. This is because the continuous warming of the waters, acidification and also the pressure from fishing are putting the ecologically important regions under massive pressure. But despite all the efforts of various states and organizations, attempts to do so failed due to the resistance of individual members. This year, the EU, together with other states, wants to make a new and, this time, stronger attempt to push through the long-standing plans.

At a meeting between the EU Minister for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius, and representatives from the US, New Zealand, Australia, Uruguay, the UK and a number of EU member states, the participants reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen plans to establish marine protected areas in Antarctica at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources CCAMLR. To this end, States intend to lobby Members for greater support so that the MPAs proposed by the EU and States in the Weddell Sea and East Antarctic are adopted at the next CCAMLR meeting. Commissioner Sinkevicius said: “Biodiversity loss and the climate crises are going faster than we had ever anticipated. It is critical to act now, if we are to turn the tide and conserve the rich and vulnerable marine life of the Southern Ocean.”

The protected areas proposed by the EU and some of its member countries, the UK, Norway, the US, New Zealand, Australia, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina are located in the eastern Weddell Sea and East Antarctica. They cover about 3 million square kilometres of the Southern Ocean. However, other MPAs located along the peninsula will also be supported. Image: Pew Charitable Trust

The protected areas favoured by the EU and the other states are in the Weddell Sea area and in the East Antarctic west of the Ross Sea. With a total area of around 3 million square kilometres, the protected areas would be roughly the size of India. The protected area in the Weddell Sea is mainly supported by the European states and the EU, as they are primarily active there. On the other hand, the US, New Zealand, Australia and France brought in the East Antarctic MPAs because they would be in their sphere of influence. “I am glad that we all expressed our commitment today in a joint declaration for the world’s largest marine protected area which would cover more than 3 million square kilometres,” Commissioner Sinkevicius continued. “I particularly want to thank the US and New Zealand for joining the other active co-sponsors in protecting that area around Antarctica.” In addition to their own MPA proposals, the ministers also reaffirmed their support for protected areas along the Antarctic Peninsula called for by Chile and Argentina. The entire Memorandum of Understanding for Antarctica is part of the EU International Ocean Agenda and a joint EU biodiversity strategy until 2030.

Last year, the proposals put forward for protected areas were the subject of much discussion at the CCAMLR meeting in Hobart. In the end, however, Russia and China resisted the establishment of the protected areas, pointing out that they would also entail a ban on scientific voyages and that the protected areas would further reduce the profitability of the limited Antarctic fisheries. Picture: Michael Wenger

How much this declaration of intent by the ministers will be worth and whether they will be successful in their attempt to convince the other CCAMLR member states, notably Russia and China, of the need for MPAs will become clear at the CCAMLR meeting in October. In previous years, the proposals had always failed due to resistance from the Russians and the Chinese, because the plans have to be agreed unanimously. Successive reworkings of the proposals had not been successful either. This situation has become very frustrating for environmental organisations. Russia, China, but also the CCAMLR had to take a lot of criticism from the protection organizations after the 2020 meeting. It is to be hoped that the renewed push by the EU and the other states at this year’s meeting will be crowned with more success. For the dangers and changes facing Antarctica’s marine life do not pause.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

Link to facts about marine protected areas in Antarctica (in English)

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