The ocean that surrounds Antarctica is one of the most biodiverse places on our planet. Covering about a tenth of the Earth’s surface, it’s home to almost 10,000 highly adapted species including Adélie and emperor penguins, albatross, colossal squid, leopard seals and blue whales.
But these pristine waters are threatened by unsustainable fishing and climate change. Both can unbalance and destroy ecosystems, and if action isn’t taken then the Southern Ocean could become a very different place.
In theory, the world has woken up to the danger. 1982 saw the creation of the international Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), a body made up of 24 nations and the EU which is committed to conserving ocean habitats in the region.
CCAMLR is committed to the creation of a system of marine protected areas (MPAs) around Antarctica - in order to protect species and habitats by managing or restricting the activities that take place.
This is particularly important as human activity in the Antarctic continues to expand. To take one example, fisheries for krill, while still small, are growing and concentrated in small coastal areas: unless well managed, they could represent a threat to marine life including seals, whales and penguins.
However, despite a number of proposals, only one MPA has so far been created – in the South Orkney Islands southern shelf, covering 94,000 sq km in 2009. Broader agreement on a representative system has yet to be reached.
We're closely engaged in CCAMLR negotiations, supporting research and working in key countries to progress discussions between member nations – and that’s where we’re staying. We won’t be satisfied until the Southern Ocean has got the protection it needs.