The 31st annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources opening on Tuesday, in Hobart, Tasmania, with proposals on the table to set aside millions of square kilometers of ocean as marine preserves.
A good deal right? Indeed.
Though as Discovery News explains fishing rights are at the center of competing proposals for sanctuaries in the same area in the Ross Sea, one of which would permit fishing and one would not.
New Zealand and the United States had hoped to make a joint submission, but were unable to reach agreement and have therefore submitted rival plans. New Zealand's covers a greater amount of water - 2.5 million square kilometers - but the US plan includes in its 1.8 million square kilometers an area of 800,000 square kilometers that will be off-limits to fishing and set aside as a 'scientific study area'. It was a disagreement over the establishment of this non-fishing area that caused the fissure between the two nations, with New Zealand reluctant to impose strict limits on its fisheries for Patagonian toothfish, despite environmentalists' concerns.
Other reserves being contemplated include: One network of protected areas covered 1.9 million square kilometers of ocean along East Antarctica, a proposal backed by Australia, France, and the European Union; and, a proposal from the UK to protect areas of sea exposed by collapsing ice shelves in the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Australian representative to CCAMLR, Dr Andrew Constable explained to ABC Science why such large areas of ocean need to be projected:
In Australia we thick of large systems as being the Great Australian Bight or the Gulf of Carpentaria, but in Antarctica the ecosystems operate at a bigger scale that that. For example, penguins and marine mammals forage over a much wider area in Antarctica than they do around Australia. If we're trying to capture ecosystem processes that can act as reference areas and for sustaining themselves, then they need to be big to capture the scale of those processes.
Worth noting: Though the proposed protected areas are designed to protect the foraging grounds for penguins, seals, whales, and areas for young krill and toothfish, whales themselves fall outside the protection scheme. Though CCAMLR would manage the preserves, whaling is managed internationally by the International Whaling Commission.
What You Can Do to Help
Another 'though': Though there is a good deal of backing for the establishment of these Antarctic preserves, there isn't universal support, as a new Avaaz petition backed by Leonardo DiCaprio highlights.
The petition, now standing at over 1 million signatures (and climbing at such a pace that by the time this article is published that figure will be inaccurate), reads:
Most countries support the sanctuary, but Russia, South Korea and a few others are threatening to vote it down so they can plunder these seas now that others have been fished to death. This week, a small group of negotiators will meet behind closed doors to make a decision. [...] The whales and penguins can't speak for themselves, so it's up to us to defend them. Let's change negotiators' minds with a massive wave of public pressure -- Avaaz will surround the meeting with hard-hitting ads, and together we'll deliver our message to delegates via a deafening cry on social networks. Sign and share this urgent petition.