Aus­tralia re­vives Hawke-era al­liance with France to push Antarc­tic ma­rine parks


Aus­tralia and France are mak­ing a fresh bid to cre­ate al­most one mil­lion square kilo­me­tres of ma­rine parks in East Antarc­tica, but must first over­come op­po­si­tion from China and Rus­sia.

The plan to pro­tect three ar­eas of East Antarc­tic wa­ters — re­strict­ing fish­ing for krill and tooth­fish — will be put to the 25mem­ber Com­mis­sion for the Con­ser­va­tion of Antarc­tic Ma­rine Liv­ing Re­sources sum­mit in Ho­bart next week. New Zealand and the US won ap­proval last year for the world’s largest ma­rine pro­tected area, in the Ross Sea.

This year there are hopes Aus- tralia and France, whose then­lead­ers Bob Hawke and Michel Ro­card in 1991 headed-off plans for min­ing in Antarc­tica, will achieve con­sen­sus sup­port for the pro­tected area in East Antarc­tica, where both na­tions have re­search sta­tions and a long his­tory.

The pro­posal is co-spon­sored by the Euro­pean Union but sim­i­lar plans have in the past been sty- mied by Rus­sia and China, and to a lesser ex­tent Norway.

Aus­tralia’s head of del­e­ga­tion to the com­mis­sion, Gil­lian Slocum, said it hoped re­cent re­fine­ments would win over the twoweek meet­ing.

“One of the key im­prove­ments we’ve made …. is to really clar­ify where and what ac­tiv­i­ties are al­lowed and not al­lowed, and we think that cer­tainty will ac­tu­ally give some mem­bers more peace of mind,” Ms Slocum said.

“We see (the pro­tected area) as an im­por­tant con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment tool and an ideal way to con­serve the South­ern Ocean ma­rine ecosys­tem and pro­vide ref­er­ence ar­eas so that we can mon­i­tor the im­pacts of fish­ing and of cli­mate change.”

Com­mis­sion de­ci­sions are made by con­sen­sus and Aus­tralia has al­ready com­pro­mised by re­duc­ing the num­ber of East Antarc­tic pro­tected ar­eas pro­posed from seven to three. These three sur­viv­ing ar­eas — MacRobert­son, Dry­gal­ski and D’Urville SeaMertz — are im­por­tant for krill, tooth­fish, sil­ver­fish, fur seals, light­man­tled al­ba­tross, Adelie and em- peror pen­guins and south­ern ele­phant seals and Wed­dell seals.

The D’Urville Sea-Mertz area would be a no-take zone for krill but fish­ing would be al­lowed in the other two ar­eas, sub­ject to con­trols to en­sure it did not un­duly im­pact species or sci­en­tific work.

The com­mis­sion, which aims to con­serve Antarc­tic ma­rine life while al­low­ing its “ra­tio­nal” use, com­mit­ted to the idea of a net­work of pro­tected ar­eas in 2009, but progress has been tor­tu­ous.

Back­ers of Aus­tralia’s lat­est plan hope last year’s Ross Sea area has cre­ated mo­men­tum. “The sci­ence shows that ma­rine pro­tected ar­eas are our best tool to man­age hu­man im­pacts and re­mov­ing fish­ing from some key ar­eas will help wildlife and biodi- ver­sity,” WWF ocean sciences man­ager Chris John­son said.

How­ever, he noted that China had in the past year be­gun krill fish­ing in East Antarc­tica.

Krill are tiny crus­taceans at the base of the Antarc­tic food chain; di­rectly or in­di­rectly sus­tain­ing fish, pen­guins and seabirds, seals and whales. Their pro­tec­tion against over-fish­ing was a key driver of the for­ma­tion of the com­mis­sion in 1982, but there is grow­ing hu­man de­mand for krill, used in Omega-3 oil tablets.

The Ross Sea area was adopted after the in­ter­ven­tion of then-US sec­re­tary of state, John Kerry, and non-gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions are urg­ing Aus­tralia, France and the EU to take a sim­i­lar high-level ap­proach to achieve the East Ant- arc­tic pro­tec­tion area. ‘‘All three pro­po­nents need to do this at the high­est level. We hope they show they are as com­mit­ted to this as they need to be to get it over the line,” Sara Holden, of the Antarc­tic and South­ern Ocean Coali­tion, said.

The meet­ing will also con­sider pro­pos­als by Ger­many for a pro­tected area in the Wed­dell Sea.


Chilly dip: Pen­guins leave the ice for a fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion in the freez­ing wa­ters of East Antarc­tica


Happy feet: An em­peror pen­guin chick snoozes while a par­ent keeps watch


An ice­berg float­ing in the South­ern Ocean off East Antarc­tica


Killer whales in the Ger­lache Strait


Crabeater seals rest on an ice floe

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