As the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) today celebrates the 35th anniversary of the Convention, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance is calling on Russia to take the lead on conservation of Antarctic waters.

The Russian Federation begins a two-year turn at holding CCAMLR chairmanship this year, bringing with it renewed hope that Russia will lead member states to a breakthrough in the three-year pursuit of large-scale conservation, in the form of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean’s Ross Sea and East Antarctica. “Nearly 200 years ago, Russia discovered Antarctica, and with that great honor also comes great responsibility”, says Grigory Tsidulko, Russian campaigner of Antarctic Ocean Alliance. “With CCAMLR’s 35th anniversary coinciding with the eve of Russia’s annual Polar Explorer’s Day on May 21st, it’s an ideal opportunity for Russia to look towards its CCAMLR chairmanship, and to how use this conservation leadership role to successfully bring about the creation of Antarctic marine protected areas (MPAs). By adding Antarctic marine protection to its impressive portfolio of Arctic conservation projects, Russia can become a global leader in marine polar conservation”.

For several years, various environmental organizations and CCAMLR nations have tried to establish Marine Protected Areas in the Ross Sea for penguin and co. All proposals had been rejected so far.
For several years, various environmental organizations and CCAMLR nations have tried to establish Marine Protected Areas in the Ross Sea for penguin and co. All proposals had been rejected so far.

CCAMLR, a convention ratified by Russia and 24 other member governments including EU, USA, Australia, UK, China, is charged with preserving the unique ecosystems of the seas surrounding Antarctica and is a part of Antarctic Treaty system. All 25 CCAMLR members have committed to establishing a representative network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean by 2012. However, during CCAMLR’s annual meeting last November, negotiations failed to reach consensus for the fourth time in three years. Under CCAMLR’s commitment, the first two proposals under consideration as part of the representative network of MPAs, the Ross Sea (proposed by New Zealand and the United States) and East Antarctica (proposed by Australia, the EU and France), were developed according to fundamental conservation principles, including the precautionary approach and the use of the best available science. Since first tabled in 2010/2011, both proposals have undergone numerous rigorous reviews and both have received the consensus approval of the Scientific Committee representatives of all 25 CCAMLR member governments to be considered by the Commission. Subsequently, proponents have steadily compromised large areas of the originally proposed MPAs in order to try to reach consensus in the Commission, but despite four attempts in three years consensus has not yet been reached.

The Antarctic Marine Protected Areas have been re-dimensioned at every CCAMLR meeting mainly due to concerns from China, Ukraine and Russia.
The Antarctic Marine Protected Areas have been re-dimensioned at every CCAMLR meeting mainly due to concerns from China, Ukraine and Russia.

"I have not been to the Antractic, but I have spent quite a bit of time underwater diving in the Arctic, studying the ecosystems of the Arctic seas,” says Nikolay Shabalin, a diver and marine researcher, Director of Centre for Marine Studies, Moscow State University. “Polar marine ecosystems, in both the Arctic and Antarctic waters, are the last pristine marine areas in the ocean. At both poles they face threats from climate change, increasing fisheries and other anthropogenic activities. These areas are extremely vulnerable and yearn for immediate protection so that they are preserved for generations to come.” Fulfilling CCAMLR‘s mandate to create a network of MPAs around Antarctica, other member states have commenced development of new MPA proposals: the Antarctic Peninsula MPA proposal is being developed by Latin American countries and the UK and US while Russia and Germany lead the work on a Weddell Sea MPA proposal.

Seamen have to mount fishing lines in Antarctica in parts on floating coffins.
Seamen have to mount fishing lines in Antarctica in parts on floating coffins.

“If we are to preserve our natural environments, we must separate politics from conservation, for the benefit of our planet’s ecosystems and the human beings and species that depend on them”, said Mark Epstein, Executive Director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. “At the peak of the Cold War, the USSR and the United States came together with the global community to negotiate the Antarctic Treaty, thus protecting Antarctica in the name of peace and science. To mark 35 years of working together for preservation of the Antarctic waters, CCAMLR’s members have a remarkable opportunity to find common ground amidst international tensions, and together create these crucially needed marine protected areas in Antarctic waters. CCAMLR member states will gather for the conservation body’s annual meeting this October in Hobart, Australia. The Antarctic Ocean Alliance appeals to the Russian Federation to harness the opportunity of its CCAMLR chairmanship to demonstrate its role as a global polar leader and ensure a lasting Southern Ocean legacy by leading CCAMLR members to consensus on MPAs designation in 2015.

Source: Antarctic Ocean Alliance, www.antarcticocean.org