Antarctica is, on average, the coldest, driest, and windiest continent on Earth. The waters around Antarctica – the Southern Ocean – is one of the most productive oceans on the planet and is the home for many charismatic wildlife including penguins, whales, dolphins and seals.
Human extractions from and activities in the Southern Ocean, compared to other areas of the world’s ocean, are relatively low. However, with increasing pressure on marine living resources such as krill – shrimp-like crustacean – and fish species such as the Antarctic toothfish – also known as Chilean Seabass – the management and regulation of human activities, in particles fisheries, becomes even more important.
Several IUCN NGO members, including the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Environment and Conservation Organizations of New Zealand (ECO), and other organizations came together to form theAntarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA). AOA proposes the creation of a network of marine protected areas and no-take marine reserves in 19 specific areas in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.
One of the key places to protect is the Ross Sea region. Reasons why to take strong conservation measures in the Ross Sea include:
- Protection of feeding and spawning grounds critical to the life-history stages of the Antarctic toothfish – the region’s top predator;
- Protection of biodiversity hot spots such as the Ross Sea shelf and slope, Balleny Islands, Pacific Antarctic Ridge and the Scott Seamounts;
- Protection that facilitates the continuation and expansion of long-term datasets that underpin crucial research into ecosystem function and environmental change, including the impacts of climate change, particularly ocean acidification.
Fisheries activities in the Southern Ocean are managed by the Commission to the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources(CCAMLR). CCAMLR agreed to the creation of a representative network of marine protected areas (MPAs) across the Southern Ocean by 2012 and is currently discussion different MPA scenarios and proposals. MPAs can range from strictly protected no-take reserves to areas in which multiple interactions with the marine environment are allowed. MPAs are being established in many oceans of the world as a tool to achieve objectives including the conservation of biodiversity and habitats, co-ordination of activities in multiple-use areas, maintenance of healthy ecosystems and the sustainable exploitation of marine living resources.
This year is crucial for the long-term conservation of marine life and resources in the Southern Ocean.