Friday, November 9, 2012

Don’t Write Off Antarctic Marine Protected Areas

Antarctica at its finest
Antarctica at its finest (Photo: HamishM)
by Dr Tony Press, CEO, Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems CRC at University of Tasmania, The Conversation:

The annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) wound up in Hobart on Thursday last week without declaring a system of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Antarctic.

But this shouldn’t be seen as a defeat for marine protection.

The three proposals on the table at the Commission were:
  • a pre-emptive move to protect areas in the Antarctic peninsula region when ice shelves collapse
  • an MPA in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica
  • a proposal from Australia, France and the European Community for a series of MPAs in east Antarctica.
During the meeting the USA and New Zealand merged their competing proposals for an MPA in the Ross Sea. NGO groups and some CCAMLR members expressed their extreme disappointment that the Commission had not met the deadline it had set itself in 2009 to establish a representative system of protected areas in the Convention area by 2012.

A failure, or a brighter future?

The Commission decided, for only the second time in its history, to hold a Special Meeting. This Special Meeting, to be held in Germany in July 2013, will further consider the protected area proposals for East Antarctica and the Ross Sea.

It will be preceded by a special meeting of CCAMLR’s Scientific Committee. The last time the CCAMLR Commission held a Special Meeting was 1986 to discuss the application from Brazil to become a member.

CCAMLR operates by consensus. Ultimately all parties must agree to a decision, or at least choose to not disagree. Consensus decision making (a hallmark of the Antarctic Treaty System) leads to strong agreement and support for decisions that are made. But it can also mean that decisions can take a long time as doubts, criticisms and opposition are addressed.

In the case of the remaining protected area proposals (the Antarctic peninsula proposal will not be considered in the Special Meeting in 2013), enough doubt existed in some delegations that consensus could not be reached. But there was not enough opposition to scuttle the call for a Special Meeting.

The stakes will be high in Germany. All parties will have had many months to consider the MPA proposals, having already considered the science behind them in 2011. The fact that these MPAs will be the only substantive issue to be considered also provides added focus on reaching a decision in July 2013.

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