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