Southern Ocean protection: Good for penguins, people and the planet!

Southern Ocean protection: Good for penguins, people and the planet!

Paris Peace Forum – by Geneviève Pons

Antarctica2020 had the privilege of showcasing its campaign to protect at least 7 million km2 of the Southern Ocean by 2020 at the Paris Peace Forum in November last year. After several lively and productive days, we were thrilled when Antarctica2020 was chosen as one of 10 projects to be supported by the Forum to help protect one of the world’s most special places — Antarctica and its great Southern Ocean.

Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and most isolated place on Earth. It is mindboggling that anything can survive in these conditions, let alone thrive, yet Antarctica is an icy cornucopia of life. Penguins, whales, seals, albatrosses, fish, krill, squid- all these animals have adapted biologically to be able to survive in impossibly challenging conditions. This distant continent plays a huge role in how our planet and climate function. It is a scientist’s playground, with so many mysteries still locked away in its fast-melting ice.

A region under threat

Ever since the Russian explorer von Bellingshausen sighted this white continent almost two centuries ago, Antarctica has sparked wonder, fear and curiosity. In 1959, at the height of the Cold War, States put aside national interest to safeguard Antarctica for peace and science with the Antarctic Treaty. Sixty years on we face another huge global challenge- climate change and biodiversity loss. Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are on the frontline, with Antarctic ice melting six times faster than it did in the 1980s. Ensuring its protection is a fight we must win.

Break the impasse of inaction

While the land mass of Antarctica has been fully protected, much of the surrounding waters are still open to exploitation, such as industrial fishing. A network of marine protected areas (MPAs) would provide protection for important ecosystems and build resilience in response to climate change. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) agreed to establish such a network, but has only established two MPAs: the South Orkney Islands (in 2009) and the Ross Sea (in 2016). A further three proposals have been proposed for the East Antarctic, the Weddell Sea and the Antarctic Peninsula. They need to be agreed by consensus by the 25 CCAMLR Member States, but have been stalled by Russia and China.

Vive the Ocean Revolution!

Southern Ocean protection is a key milestone in achieving strong protection of at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030- the minimum level science recommends to ensure a healthy Ocean. France and Emmanuel Macron have an historic opportunity to lead in ocean protection. As a world leader fighting climate change and biodiversity loss, as hosts of the G7 this year and as co-proponent of the East Antarctic MPA proposal they can lead the charge with other MPA proponents to break the impasse of inaction at the CCAMLR meeting in October.

As the famous Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton said “Through endurance we conquer.” That is exactly what Antarctica2020 intends to do- working with the Paris Peace Forum, our partners and allies we hope to help create an Ocean legacy that promotes peace and environmental stewardship that benefits humanity for generations to come. Watch this space…!

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