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Humpback whale (Megaptera novaengliae) feeds on Antarctic krill in Fournier Bay, Antarctic Peninsula © Chris Johnson / WWF-Aus

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaengliae) feeds on Antarctic krill in Fournier Bay, Antarctic Peninsula © Chris Johnson / WWF-Aus

Fishing area in the Antarctic becomes ocean sanctuary

11 Dec 2020

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An NGO-industry collaboration to protect the Antarctic Ocean today announces a big step forward with a year-round closure of a 4500km2 area of ocean around Hope Bay in the northern Antarctic Peninsula.

The move is supported by the Association for Responsible Krill fishing (ARK) and an NGO coalition of WWF, Greenpeace, The Pew Charitable Trusts and Oceanites.

This large closure supported by the largest krill fishing companies will see nearly all krill companies operating in the Antarctic expanding the voluntary restricted zones that went into effect in 2018.

This step would secure the year-round protection of the largest Adélie penguin colony in the region and send a strong statement of intent in support of a marine protected area in the Antarctic Peninsula from industry to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and the entire Antarctic community. Krill is a small crustacean and a key species in the Antarctic food web for penguins, seals, whales and other marine life.

Studies have shown a strong population decline among the Adélie penguins within the time span they have been monitored. By closing this area, the krill industry reinforces its precautionary approach, upholding important ecosystem values and facilitating a better scientific understanding of penguin performance.

Chris Johnson, WWF Global Whale Conservation Lead said:
“The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most spectacular and fragile places on Earth. This region is home to iconic ocean giants such as fin, humpback and minke whales foraging on tiny Antarctic krill among a wealth of wildlife such as seals, seabirds and penguins. Since 1979, sea-ice duration has decreased by 85 days annually here and we are running out of time to implement meaningful conservation. We need to establish strong marine management to give nature the space it needs to thrive. Now Governments need to step up and respond to deliver their commitments to protect the Antarctic.”

Will McCallum of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign, said:
“This is a major step towards seeing permanent protection in the Antarctic Peninsula and we are pleased to see the fishing industry listening to the movement of individuals, scientists and politicians across the world calling for ocean protection.”

“By creating this sanctuary around Hope Bay, the krill fishing industry is taking more action to protect the Antarctic than the governments responsible for its conservation. It's a shocking indictment of the failure of the Antarctic Ocean Commission to act on the scientific proposals put forward to protect this area. There is a long way to go to make sure this incredible ocean has the protection it needs and we urge governments to step up and commit to creating ocean sanctuaries in the Antarctic, free from harmful human activities. At this year’s major UN conference on Biodiversity they need to agree an ambitious target to protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.”

In dialogue with WWF, Greenpeace, and The Pew Charitable Trusts in 2018, the world’s leading krill companies committed to stop fishing during the penguin breeding season in some of the identified ecologically sensitive areas recommended for protection.

From the 2020/21 fishing season, these krill companies will observe a permanent closure covering 4500km2 of these areas, whilst continuing to support the process to create a vast protected area in the region through advocacy and contribution to relevant scientific research.

Pål Skogrand, Director of Antarctic Affairs at the Antarctic krill harvesting company, Aker BioMarine, said:
“Nature is changing fast in Antarctica, faster than policy and regulation is able to understand and keep up with. When the krill industry moves to an all-year closure ahead of its time, this is a necessary precautionary action that we take because we can. To get things right in Antarctica we need to move outside of our comfort zones and develop “shared ownership” of crucial conservation concepts across industry, Governments and NGOs”.

Andrea Kavanagh, director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean work for The Pew Charitable Trusts, said:
“This good news for the Southern Ocean provides a bright spot at the end of 2020, and it’s fitting that the newly protected region includes Hope Bay, because the fisheries closure represents new hope for Adélie penguins.

"Several of the world’s largest mega-colonies of these penguins live near Hope Bay, relying on krill as a prime source of forage food, and some populations have suffered a 38% decline in the past 18 years. The region is also home to seals, whales, and Gentoo penguins.

"This new year-round closure is an important step, following the seasonal closures implemented two years ago by industry, and reconfirms the willingness of industry leaders to work toward permanently protecting this spectacular region with an Antarctic Peninsula marine protected area. We hope that governments responsible for managing this area can catch up to industry and expand on this closure by permanently protecting this most heavily fished—and most visited by tourists—part of Antarctica, which is warming faster than nearly anywhere else on Earth.”

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