Atlantic Ocean Alliance calls for marine protection at the South Pole

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) – an organization that represents a group of environmental agencies, including the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace – has launched a new campaign to protect Antarctica’s ocean through the world’s largest network of marine reserves.

Antarctica’s ocean, sometimes referred to as the Antarctic Ocean, the Southern Ocean or the South Polar Ocean, surrounds the icy continent of Antarctica and contains waters from the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (although, some scientists don’t acknowledge the presence of the Antarctic Ocean, instead insisting that it belongs to three separate oceans).

The Antarctic Ocean comprises ten percent of the world’s ocean waters, but hosts more than 10,000 species of fish and marine life, many of which are unique to the region and its icy temperatures. Animals that call the ocean home include whales, krill, seals, squid, fish and penguins.

Although Antarctica and its surrounding environment is largely untouched and unexplored, the region still faces some environmental problems and suffers from environmental issues such as climate change and overfishing. As the global temperature rises, an increase in ultraviolet radiation from a hole in the ozone layer penetrates the ocean’s waters, reducing the productivity of phytoplankton by 15 percent and damaging the DNA of some species of fish. Illegal and unregulated fishing is also a problem in the Antarctic Ocean, particularly harming the Patagonian toothfish, which is being fished – and thus depleted – at five to six times the rate of a regulated fishery.

One area that the AOA focuses on conserving is the Ross Sea, a body whose protection network would cover 3.6 million square kilometers on the edge of Antarctica closest to New Zealand. The AOA aims to protect the region’s biodiversity and geomorphic features, such as oceanic ridges and troughs, as well as its breeding areas for fish. The AOA also wishes to collect data on the region’s response to climate change and its effects, including ocean acidification.

The Ross Sea region is one of the last remaining pristine ocean environments on Earth, and has not been significantly altered by human presence. It is home to more than a quarter of the world’s population of Adelie and emperor penguins, as well as minke whales, killer whales and seals. There is little concern for illegal hunting of seals and whales in the area – like the greater Antarctic region, the Ross Sea’s largest environmental threats are due to industrial fishing and climate change. The AOA’s proposal encourages the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to “establish a fully protected marine reserve of approximately 3.6 million square kilometers in the Ross Sea region as a first step towards establishing a comprehensive network of marine reserves and MPAs around Antarctica.”

The CCAMLR, a body made up of representatives from 24 nations and the European Union, plans to set up protected marine areas in the Antarctic this year. Formed in 1982, the CCAMLR is composed of scientists and members who have experience in fishing and marine research in Antarctica. As the CCALMR’s decision regarding marine protection draws nearer, the AOA has set up a watch to track progress, and has written a petition to show support for the CCAMLR and for establishing a network of protected areas in the Antarctic Ocean. The petition letter states, “As CCAMLR is a body that meets with limited public participation and no media access, I feel it’s important to speak out for these unique global commons areas and to call for the widest possible protection for Antarctica’s oceans. Please do the right thing and protect Antarctica’s oceans for future generations.” To show your support for the Antarctic marine environment and the CCAMLR, and to show that you stand with the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, sign the petition at the AOA Web site.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/mark217/3444824443

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