Last month, 7 million people took to the streets to support the youth-led Week for Future and Climate Justice strikes. Together, they demanded action on climate change in one of the biggest global demonstrations in history.
In the same week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report with an urgent message. Climate change is severely damaging our oceans and ice-covered regions, and world leaders must take immediate action to reduce emissions and increase ecosystem resilience.
Today, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) begins its annual meeting in Hobart, Tasmania. This is the first international meeting related to ocean conservation since the global youth strikes, the IPCC’s report, the Climate Action Summit, and the United Nations General Assembly.
“CCAMLR’s members will be in the spotlight as they consider proposals for large-scale marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica,” said Claire Christian, executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition.
In 2009, CCAMLR agreed by consensus to work toward creating a network of MPAs throughout the Southern Ocean by 2012.
“To date, CCAMLR has failed to achieve its own commitment, or to respond adequately to the global climate and biodiversity crises. The Southern Ocean has a powerful influence on regulating the world’s oceans and the global climate. It is also home to nearly 10,000 species, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth,” Christian said.
Globally, biodiversity loss is accelerating, and the extinction rate is tens to hundreds of times higher than in the past. Without significant changes, more than half of the world’s marine species could face extinction by the year 2100. We are also in the midst of a climate crisis. The world’s oceans are being transformed rapidly by the impacts of climate change, which is one of the main threats to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
“The science is clear: The recent U.N. report on our ocean and the cryosphere identified networks of marine-protected areas as a critical tool to build resilience in a changing climate,” said Andrea Kavanagh, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Antarctic and Southern Ocean work.
“CCAMLR’s greatest impact toward conserving our planet would be to establish a network of robust marine protections in the Southern Ocean,” she said. “Protecting this critical ecosystem would increase the diversity and abundance of species and help conserve the region’s function as a vital carbon sink.”
Kavanagh noted that colder waters absorb more carbon than warmer waters, and Antarctic krill, a keystone species, sequester 23 million tons of carbon in the Southern Ocean each year.
This year, CCAMLR will consider MPA proposals for East Antarctica, the Weddell Sea, and the Antarctic Peninsula.
“Last year, despite almost 3 million calling for the protection of the Antarctic, CCAMLR missed the historic opportunity to create the largest protected area on Earth, leaving the incredible wildlife in the region exposed to pressures from overfishing, pollution, and climate change,” said Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign. “We are in the middle of a climate emergency, and this time we just can’t get it wrong. We urgently need to protect the Weddell Sea by creating ocean sanctuaries free from harmful human activities for marine life to recover.”
“Antarctica is a special place on the planet – where we have set aside political differences in the past creating it as a reserve for ‘peace and science,'” said Chris Johnson, WWF’s Antarctic Programme lead. “Climate change is threatening the stability of marine ecosystems and solutions like MPAs can make a difference. We have three proposed marine protected areas in East Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula, and the Weddell Sea that will be under consideration by CCAMLR. These regions are vital to providing space for nature to adapt to climate change. 2019 is a critical year for the future of the Antarctic and now is the time to make the right decisions for the good of our future generations.”
The CCAMLR meeting runs for two weeks until Friday, Nov. 1, 2019.