The Russian representatives hinder the establishment of a conservation zone in Antarctica.
The Antarctic marine environment was the topic of discussion at a significant global conference, but no consensus was reached on establishing additional conservation areas. Despite being presented with alarming evidence of various crises, such as record-low sea ice levels, declining wildlife populations, and the emergence of avian flu, no agreement was reached.
Proposals that have been around for a long time to establish marine protected areas covering almost 4 million square kilometers were not able to gain approval due to objections from the Russian government delegates. These delegates were delayed in arriving because of visa issues and caused several delays in the discussions, according to numerous sources present at the Hobart meeting.
Due to a lack of significant consensus, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources held a meeting in Hobart where discussions on establishing protected areas in the western Antarctic peninsula, Weddell Sea, and east Antarctica were postponed until next year.
Experts noted that during the 14-day conference, 26 countries and the European Union were presented with scientific data demonstrating the necessity of establishing conservation zones in order to safeguard crucial habitats for penguins, toothfish, seals, and whales. This initiative also aligns with the international objective of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by the year 2030.
According to Emily Grilly, the WWF’s conservation manager for Antarctica, it is extremely disheartening that there has been little to no improvement in over ten years of talks, despite the significant changes that have occurred in Antarctica in the past year.
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According to her, the historically low levels of sea ice and disastrous breeding failure of emperor penguins should have served as a warning for countries to unite, prioritize conservation, and fulfill their promise to create marine protected areas with substantial no-fishing zones.
The Ccamlr (pronounced “camelar”) is a commission that was created through an international treaty and has been convening in Tasmania, the southernmost state of Australia, since 1982. Its achievements have been sporadic, with a notable success in 2016 when an agreement was reached to establish the largest marine park in the world in the Ross Sea. The Southern Ocean makes up approximately 10% of the world’s ocean and currently only 5% of it is under protection.
The annual conference started with a speech by Caroline Kennedy, the US ambassador to Australia, who stressed the importance of the commission taking action to address the effects of significant ice melting on the Antarctic peninsula, a record decrease in sea ice coverage, and a decline in the population of Antarctic fur seals. It was also reported during the meeting that Avian flu had made its way to the Antarctic for the first time, raising concerns about potential breeding issues in the already vulnerable ecosystem.
During an interview, Kennedy informed the Guardian that there is a growing recognition of the significance of Southern Ocean krill for global food security. He also raised concerns about the fourfold rise in krill harvesting over the last 15 years. Krill is abundant in nutrients and its demand has risen as a protein source and for fish farm feed. Additionally, it plays a crucial role in the diets of almost all Antarctic animal species, either directly or indirectly.
Kennedy emphasized the importance of sustainable management of Antarctic krill, stating that it is crucial for life on our planet. He also called it one of the delegates’ most significant responsibilities.
The Russian representatives were absent for Kennedy’s speech and discussions about important scientific findings. When they finally arrived, they opposed suggestions to strengthen environmental conservation efforts. The meeting went past its scheduled time, ending on Friday overnight. The commission’s scientific committee reached a consensus to organize a symposium in July centered on creating a protected area for the western Antarctic peninsula and implementing an ecosystem-based approach to managing krill fisheries.
Claire Christian, the head of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, expressed some relief that important conservation efforts were not being reversed. However, she also noted that the commission was being cautious instead of making bold choices. “It seems like we are making slow progress in protecting Antarctic marine life,” she remarked.
According to Andrea Kavanagh of the Pew Charitable Trusts, creating marine protected areas will not solve the climate crisis, but it can improve the resilience of the Southern Ocean ecosystem. She stated that scientists have projected that approximately 9,000 emperor penguin chicks died during the 2022 breeding season as a result of premature melting of sea ice. If this trend continues for two more years, it could lead to the extinction of the species. Kavanagh posed the question, “How many more seasons like this will pass without any intervention from Ccamlr?”
Tanya Plibersek, the Australian environment minister, expressed disappointment that the meeting did not reach an agreement despite a strong majority of members supporting it. She stated that they will continue collaborating with the commission to enhance protection for the Southern Ocean and its valuable marine life.