Protection for the Antarctic Peninsula Region

Effort would strengthen ecosystem, boost resilience

Protection for the Antarctic Peninsula Region

Overview

The Western Antarctic Peninsula and South Scotia Arc regions are some of the most biologically important areas of the Southern Ocean and have experienced the impacts of a changing climate more than almost anywhere else on Earth. Regional warming is leading to changing weather conditions, substantial declines in sea ice formation, and winter habitat loss for wildlife such as Adélie and chinstrap penguins, crabeater seals, and Antarctic krill, a forage species that forms the base of the food web. Combined with concentrated fishing for krill in coastal areas, these changing conditions are putting a strain on this fragile ecosystem and its remarkable biodiversity. Consequently, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is considering a proposal to establish a large marine protected area (MPA) in this region.

The Pew Charitable Trusts supports establishing permanent large, no-take marine reserves based on scientific evidence that they strengthen ecosystem health, rebuild biodiversity, and boost climate resilience. An MPA in the Western Antarctic Peninsula and South Scotia Arc region should protect biodiversity hot spots, including unique benthic and pelagic habitats, to safeguard Antarctic krill populations, millions of breeding seabirds, marine mammals, and the greater ecosystem.

Recommendations

An MPA  for this region must:

  • Include year-round no-fishing buffer zones covering the coastal foraging ranges of penguins and other predators of krill, particularly in the Bransfield and Gerlache straits.
  • Contain a permanent, large no-fishing zone protecting the entire area near the Bellingshausen Sea and along the Western Antarctic Peninsula, known to be a sensitive spawning and nursery habitat for krill.
  • Contain climate change reference areas where no fishing is allowed, to better inform scientists on the impacts of climate change versus the impacts of fishing.
  • Fully protect sensitive spawning and nursery habitat for other commercially and ecologically valuable fish species (i.e., icefish, silverfish, and toothfish).
  • Incorporate a robust research and monitoring plan that will inform conservation management and the regulation of research and commercial fishing.
  • Be permanent to improve ecosystem resilience, given the changing environmental  conditions.

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In October 2016, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) established the Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area. The 2.06-million-square-kilometer marine reserve, which covers an area larger than Mexico and includes the area under the Ross Ice Shelf, is the world’s largest marine protected area (MPA). It represents a major advancement in fulfilling CCAMLR’s commitment to create a network of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean.

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