A coalition of 25 countries and the European Union have failed to reach an agreement to protect critical areas of the Antarctic Ocean from overfishing and other concerns related to pollution and climate change. Environmentalists were very disappointed at this lack of resolution and largely blame Russia, China and Ukraine for not stepping up to bolster the consensus needed to make progress on the proposed protective measures.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has been meeting in Tasmania for the past 2 weeks to consider proposals to establish marine reserves in two regions of the Southern Ocean. The United States and New Zealand brought forth two separate plans that propose protecting 1.6 million square kilometers in the Ross Sea, an area about the size of Iran. Another plan proposed protecting a whopping 1.9 million square kilometers, which amounts to about three times the size of France.
There has been an outpouring of support for a marine reservegalvanized by conservation groups like the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA), a group got 1.2 million people to sign a petition for large scale protection zones. Even celebrity Leonardo Di Caprio chimed in on this subject with his own petition, saying that since the whales and the penguins can’t speak for themselves, the world needs to stand up on their behalf.
But all the outpouring of support was not able to produce an agreement for conservation zones at the the CCLAMR summit. Fishing fleets in adjacent countries are looking to the Southern Ocean for fresh opportunity as fishing stocks nearer to home have been depleted. According to Steve Campbell of the AOA, “There are competing interests, in terms of commercial interests and in terms of economic control of these areas, we floundered, essentially, at the end of the talks.”
But all hope is not lost on agreeing to protect portions of the Antarctic ocean. There will be a special session of the Commission planned to be held in Germany on July 2013. Environmentalists view this as a critical meeting and essentially a last chance to achieve some kind of protection in the region.
Lead image by Jerzy Strzelecki