Weddell Sea MPA collapses. What’s next?

Weddell Sea MPA collapses. What’s next?

The WWF Living Planet Report released at the end of October told the depressing tale of how humans have wiped out 60% of the earth’s wildlife since 1970. This wasn’t enough, however, to encourage Russia, China and Norway to agree to extend a no-take Marine Protected Area across the Weddell Sea, home to an abundance of seals, penguins, whales and more.

Greenpeace has condemned the states’ party to the CCAMLR, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources for having failed their ‘mandate to conserve the ocean’ in light of the breakdown of Weddell Sea MPA negotiations. Whilst Greenpeace is bound to speak against anyone involved with the collapse of the MPA, it’s obvious how important the world’s biggest ocean sanctuary in a particularly vulnerable area of the world would be.

Antarctic geopolitics comes into play here: the failure to reach an agreement is a good reflection of the troubles in general with the international governance of Antarctica. For the opposing states, it was a matter of fishing and ‘rational use’. Whilst Russia’s focus in the region is Antarctic toothfish, China’s is krill, with Norway focusing on the semantics of the MPAs location and size.

China and Russia’s refusal to sanction the MPA echoes previous troubles around MPA establishment in Antarctica as the two also initially blocked the Ross Sea MPA and went on to vote against the East Antarctic Sea MPA too. Historical fishing interests in the areas lead the reasons for disagreement.

The establishment of Marine Protected Areas in habitats vulnerable to human exploitation is a vital conservation method, known to protect at-risk species of which are often key to entire ecosystems. The East Antarctic MPA that failed after the Ross Sea MPA eventually succeeded would have protected the unique marine life that lives deep in its waters where seafloor churning establishes environments for specific fish, mammals and seabirds.

“Russia and China have a tradition of taking an all-out approach to the exploitation of natural resources”.

Marine conservationist Professor Callum Roberts, of York University – Guardian 2016

The Ross Sea MPA is the biggest one on earth. Its coming into being was tumultuous, but the decision came about after much deliberation. Sadly, the commitments that the East Antarctic and Weddell Sea MPA would need from all nation-states party to the CCAMLR appeared too great. Yet if we, as a collective, continue to fail to defend these absolutely vital habits, the figure released by the WWF last month will continue to rise, and dramatically so. With environmental change on the continent already affecting key species like Adelie penguins and krill fish, a future where key states continually refuse to take a firm stance on protecting an area as vitally important as the Antarctic doesn’t look bright.

On a more positive note, negotiations are beginning at the United Nations on a potential Global Ocean Treaty that could be established as soon as 2020. It would establish a ‘network of ocean sanctuaries’ across up to 30% of the world’s oceans. In terms of Antarctic ocean sanctuaries, hopefully next year’s meeting of the CCAMLR will prove more fruitful. Any further delays will put key species at significant risk in an ever-changing, ever-warming world.


Cover Image by by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Weddell Sea MPA collapses. What’s next?”

  • i’ve been too busy this couple of weeks and couldn’t read the post sooner 🙁 but, I’m happy I finally get time to read it.
    It’s so sad that not all as humans want to take care of the planet that we live in. People should know that we have to protect our oceans, because life is a huge puzzle where all the pieces interact. If we don’t protect a little part (really huge part if we talk about the water surface) of our planet, we are damaging everyting, including us.
    Thank you for writing these posts! Looking forward for the next 🙂 hope everything’s great! x

  • It really is. The ripple effects of environmental degradation and habitat loss in Antarctica will be significant the world over. Thanks for reading Ana!

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