CCAMLR: Leaders Miss Another Opportunity to Protect the Seas of Antarctica

CCAMLR: Leaders Miss Another Opportunity to Protect the Seas of Antarctica

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Meeting closes with no designation of critical Marine Protected Areas and turns a blind eye to illegal fishing in its waters

October 30th, 2020: Today the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) concluded its 39th annual meeting, which took place virtually with a restricted agenda.

CCAMLR’s mandate includes protecting Antarctic wildlife and designating large marine protected areas enabling the ocean to build resilience to climate change, yet this year the meeting limited discussions on these issues and focused on renewing fishing authorizations putting CCAMLR’s international credibility at risk. This included Members not agreeing  to protect waters exposed by the retreating Pine Island Glacier, which is rapidly receeding due to climate change and measurably contributing to sea level rise.

Evidence was also presented by the NZ Government that the Russian flagged vessel F/V Palmer was fishing illegally in the protected waters of the Ross Sea. CCAMLR Members could not reach consensus to add the vessel to their illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) list. Unfortunately, this vessel will be allowed to continue to fish this season, without any consequence. To date, CCAMLR has been a leader in combatting IUU fishing and ASOC were outraged that Members did not take a stronger stand against this vessel being allowed to continue to fish.

“Although we’re glad the meeting took place virtually, the limited agenda was troubling and resulted in yet another year passing when CCAMLR failed to address climate change impacts or establish a network of marine protected areas in its waters. Even worse, CCAMLR is going backwards on combatting IUU fishing by allowing the Palmer to continue to fish.said Claire Christian, executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition.

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean contain approximately 90 percent of the world’s ice and around 70 percent of the planet’s freshwater. Its circumpolar currents are responsible for sustaining marine biodiversity throughout the world, including Antarctic krill who move from the surface of the ocean to its depths, carrying carbon away from our atmosphere and sequestering the equivalent annual emissions of approximately 35 million cars.

Antarctic ice is melting at an unprecedented rate – a stark example of how threatened our fragile planet is and that we are not only putting its wildlife at risk but also ourselves. COVID-19 has made clear the need for us to restore our relationship with nature. The importance of the Southern Ocean to the health of the planet and its climate have been clearly established.

Overall, the failure of global leadership to protect this critical ecosystem is deeply concerning. On the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica and on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty going into force—an agreement reached at the height of the Cold War to protect an entire continent—establishing new marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean should have been an easy decision.”  Andrea Kavanagh, director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean work with The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“We all need to pull together in these difficult times. Climate change and the biodiversity crisis are not going away. Illegal fishing needs to be stamped out.  We have the solutions and the commitments to protect the Southern Ocean and its iconic wildlife.  It’s time we give the world hope. In 2021, we urge all governments to demonstrate collaboration and leadership for the benefit of people and nature,” said Chris Johnson Global Lead, Whale and Dolphin Conservation at WWF.

How many more times will these Governments hit the snooze button and postpone the decision to protect the Antarctic ocean? The consistent failure to take responsibility for this fragile wilderness, whilst at the same time continuing to allow commercial interests to exploit it further, is putting the fate of humankind at risk. Our planet is circling the drain, countries need to take action urgently if they are serious about tackling the climate and nature emergencies. Despite the best efforts of many national delegates in fighting for Antarctic protection, it’s clear that over the next year we need senior politicians and heads of state to make ocean protection a priority. We just can’t afford to see the same lack of progress in 2021.” Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK.

One positive outcome of the meeting was the strong support shown by many countries for the future designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Australia and Uruguay signed up to co-sponsor the Weddell Sea MPA, while Norway and Uruguay joined the countries proposing an East Antarctica MPA. Most countries including Korea and Brazil, agreed to join a statement endorsing the importance of MPA designation put forward by the EU.

We are grateful to MPA proponent countries who have driven efforts in establishing a network of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean and call on their high-level diplomacy to secure designations in 2021. We remain confident that CCAMLR can achieve this major milestone for conservation next year and look forward to adding a new Antarctic anniversary worth celebrating for years to come.” Concluded Kavanagh of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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