Antarctic Ocean Commission fails to deliver ocean sanctuaries

The Antarctic Ocean Commission (CCAMLR) has failed to create long-promised ocean sanctuaries at their annual meeting in Hobart, Australia. Despite this, it was able to recognise a handful of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems.

Written by Oceanographic Staff

The Commission failed to reach consensus on creating three large Marine Protected Areas for the Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea, despite support from an overwhelming majority of governments. Unfortunately, this also left the world’s largest known fish breeding colony, which is home to an estimated 60 million icefish nests, without protection. 

However, the Commission did recognise eight new Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) – unique Antarctic seabed ecosystems with high biological diversity, which are now protected from fishing. The new VMEs include seven that were documented during submarine dives from Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, and cover approximately 70km2 in total. 

These sites are spectacularly diverse in sponges and corals, which provide living space for other species such as icefish and octopuses. The new VMEs are clustered around the Antarctic Sound, off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The locations are spectacularly diverse in sponges and corals and provide living space for other species such as icefish and octopuses. They show the complexity and abundant biodiversity that can be found on the Antarctic seabed. 

“It is truly disturbing that the Commission has failed to protect an obviously Vulnerable Marine Ecosystem, disregarding unanimous advice put forward by CCAMLR scientists over three scientific assessment meetings. Despite this, the protection of all seven proposed Greenpeace sites, plus one additional site, gives me some hope. Eight sites that support extensive and mature communities now enjoy permanent protection from all bottom fishing activities,” commented Dr Susanne Lockhart, the lead scientist on the Greenpeace expedition.

Dr Laura Meller of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign said: “I’m glad we’ve fast tracked protection for these Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems, small universes unlike anywhere else on the planet. However once again, the Antarctic Ocean Commission has failed to act at the scale needed to match the climate and ocean crises. Billions of people rely on healthy oceans, they play a vital role in the fight against climate breakdown, but the Commission is letting widely supported proposals which would protect 4 million square kilometres of ocean gather dust on their desks.”

“What we’ve seen at the latest Antarctic Ocean Commission meeting provides an example of how not to set up a functioning international body. Its reliance on consensus decision making has left it utterly ineffective, and unable to deliver the protection the Antarctic needs. This dysfunction makes it even more clear that governments must agree a strong Global Ocean Treaty, with the power to create ocean sanctuaries all over this blue planet, and without letting one or two delegations stop urgent ocean protection,” Meller continued.

Photography courtesy of Greenpeace. 

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here.

Written by Oceanographic Staff

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