Pew Urges International Leaders to Recommit to Protecting Southern Ocean Food Chain

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On the eve of a historic 11-day meeting celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, the Pew Environment Group encouraged diplomats, polar scientists and non-governmental organizations to redouble their efforts to protect polar regions from the impact of climate change. 

The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) is the major annual diplomatic event related to Antarctica.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will open this first multilateral meeting hosted by the Obama administration, which occurs at a time when both poles are issuing alarms about global warming. 

Immediately preceding the official start of the ATCM, the Antarctic Treaty's Committee on Environmental Protection and the Science Committee of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources met for the first time, on April 3 and 4. The two groups discussed ways to achieve closer coordination and collaboration in their efforts to address the serious impact of climate change on marine resources in the Southern Ocean, including Antarctic krill and Patagonian toothfish (widely known as Chilean sea bass), and promote progress on marine protected areas.

“The Antarctic Treaty governs environmental stewardship of the land and waters of the Southern Ocean, which are under increasing stress due to global warming,” said Gerald Leape, who directs the Pew Environment Group's Antarctic Krill Conservation Project.  “The signatories to the Treaty must rise to the occasion and fully reengage on the critical issues impacting the region -- especially as they relate to Antarctic krill, the keystone species of the Antarctic food chain.”

Antarctic krill are by far the most important food in the diet of many marine mammals and seabirds, from the blue whale to the albatross. Scientists warn of the potential for localized depletion of Antarctic krill at levels which could seriously harm both the land and ocean-based Antarctic krill predators that call Antarctica home.  Global warming has made these concerns more urgent as rising temperatures continue to melt sea ice, destroying key habitat and nursery areas for Antarctic krill.  Less sea ice means less Antarctic krill.

“The level of collaboration and communication between the Arctic Council and the Antarctic Treaty Parties must increase if we are going to address the impacts of climate change and ensure protection for these highly fragile environments and the ecosystems they support,” said Leape.

The first-ever joint Arctic Council/Antarctic Treaty Ministerial Meeting begins today at the U.S. State Department in Washington, DC.  Parties will pursue resolutions to support a fair and science-based climate agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference being held in Copenhagen during December 2009.  The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting runs from April 7-17 at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

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