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Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica © Michael Harte

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica © Michael Harte

Protecting the Southern Ocean

  • antarctica
  • marine protected areas

The Southern Ocean is one of the last great wildernesses on Earth. Isolated by ice, wind and wild seas, it’s a place of spectacular natural beauty and home to a breathtaking suite of wildlife. Many are part of complex global food chains that circulate around the globe.

Few conservation measures afford vulnerable plants and animals and their habitats the same degree of security as marine protected areas (MPAs). They’re critical to boosting resilience to climate change and human activities, and supporting the climatic processes on which species depend. That's why WWF is working through international policy channels to protect at least two million square kilometres of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean within MPAs.


One of the main channels is the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), established by international convention in 1982. CCAMLR aims to maintain existing ecological relationships and to achieve conservation while allowing the ‘rational use’ of living resources, like regulated fishing. It does this primarily through MPAs.


Four Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) chicks with an adult at Snow Hill Island colony. Antarctica © / Bryan and Cherry Alexander / WWF


The Commission committed to establish a system of MPAs in the Southern Ocean by 2012. It is currently considering proposals for MPAs in the Ross Sea (south of New Zealand) and East Antarctica (south of Australia) to protect 2.4 million square kilometres of critical habitat. All of CCAMLR’s 25 country members need to support designation and now only one or possibly two are blocking these proposals.


WWF is a member of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), a union of over 30 non-government groups dedicated to Antarctic protection. We provide CCAMLR with some of the science needed to support MPA proposals and work through our international offices to encourage CCAMLR members to support these MPAs.

A network of large MPAs is our best way of communicating protection on whales, penguins, seals and krill – the foundation of the Southern Ocean food chain.

Marine protected areas can ensure that marine life from tiny krill to huge whales thrive in an environment resilient to climate change and free from fishing pressure.

Chris Johnson

WWF-Australia Oceans Science Manager


  • What is a marine protected area (MPA)? An MPA is an area designated and effectively managed to protect marine ecosystems, processes, habitats and species. MPAs include marine reserves, no-take zones, marine sanctuaries, ocean sanctuaries, marine parks and locally managed marine areas. The level of protection and range of activities allowed or prohibited varies according to the MPA.
  • The 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development committed to conserve 10% of marine areas through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas by 2020.
  • CCAMLR committed to create a representative system of MPAs by 2012. The area now managed by CCAMLR covers around 10% of the Earth's surface. However, just 0.29% of this area is protected in one large MPA in the Southern Ocean, south of the South Orkney Islands.

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Green turtle on a reef © Mike Ball Dive Expeditions / WWF-Aus


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Juvenile eastern quolls (Dasyurus viverrinus) at Devils @ Cradle, Tasmania © Devils @ Cradle / WWF-Aus


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