NOTE: This is a guest blog post by Blair Palese of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance.
Unbeknownst to most of us around the world, a small body known as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is about to decide the fate of one of the world’s biggest global ocean commons: the waters of Antarctica. Made up of 24 countries plus the European Union, CCAMLR meets annually with no media access and very limited public participation in the town of Hobart, Australia.
This year and next, CCAMLR has agreed to consider a network of marine protected areas in Antarctica’s oceans and over the coming months, workshops will be held in a number of international cities to prepare to decide how big, how ecologically important and how bold their commitment will be.
Naturally, there are countries with economic interests — particularly, fishing in these icy waters for two species: the Antarctic toothfish, a long-lived, top-predator species that lives in areas like the near pristine Ross Sea, and krill, a tiny shrimp-like species that is increasingly sought after for fish oil supplements and uses such as aqua-culture. As CCAMLR is a consensus body, their meeting in October is sure to see a struggle between those who would like to do the right thing, and those who would like to see industrial activities increase; and the outcome is far from certain.
Ahead of the 2012 annual CCAMLR meeting, a new alliance of 18 global environmental and conservation groups, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA), is working to alert the world to the decisions CCAMLR is about to make and the opportunity we have to greatly expand Antarctic protection for future generations. The AOA has proposed protection for 19 key habitats in Antarctic waters based on where whole ecosystems are still intact and the importance of these areas for biological and climate change research. If successful, the AOA’s proposed areas would be the largest network of ocean reserves in the world — an order of magnitude greater than anything that has been achieved before.
The new AOA has the support of some big names including oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, actor and UN Biodiversity Ambassador Edward Norton, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and actor Ted Danson. Environment groups on board include Greenpeace, WWF and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
The AOA is calling on the public to “Join the Watch” of CCAMLR before its next two meetings so we can be sure delegates know we are asking for serious protection of these precious waters. As home to almost 10,000 of the world’s most unique species including seals, penguins, colossal squid and sea birds, these waters truly belong to all of us.
As Oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle said in our campaign video, “If Antarctica is changed, and it is changing, the effects resonate across the whole planet.”
We have a window of opportunity to do what we’ve been unable to do in most of the rest of the world’s oceans: protect them from overexploitation.
As Edward Norton says: “There’s a moment of opportunity now to apply pressure — we can send a clear signal that millions of people are watching this process… Don’t let us down.”
Now is the time to protect this unique marine environment as the largest network of ocean reserves in the world. Help us get there. Find out more at www.antarcticocean.org or, better yet, Join the Watch and sign the petition to CCAMLR to ask for long-term protection for Antarctica’s ocean for us and for future generations.
Photo: Penguins hunting, Ross Sea, Antarctica. Credit: John B. Weller for the Antarctic Ocean Alliance.