Krill under ice © Alfred-Wegener Institut/Ulrich Freier

Krill under ice © Alfred-Wegener Institut/Ulrich Freier

Renewed urgency and opportunity for Antarctic conservation

04 Nov 2022

Keywords
  • krill
  • antarctica
  • climate change
The annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has wrapped up with some renewed optimism despite once again failing to agree on new marine protected areas.

Hopes for a future breakthrough on MPAs were partly driven by high-level political engagement by the United States.

Assistant Secretary of State, Monica Medina attended CCAMLR this year, injecting a new urgency into international conservation efforts, highlighting:
“unwavering commitment to conserving and protecting the Antarctic – an increasingly fragile and precious part of our planet. And this is a pivotal moment for both Antarctica and for the world – climate change is changing this region faster than any of us thought possible. Which is why the actions we take at this meeting in Hobart and in future global meetings over the next six months will shape the health of the planet – and all its inhabitants — for generations…. A series of MPAs will help create a nature positive world and support ecosystems, migratory pathways, and endemic ocean species” (Online statement here)

While current proposals for MPAs in the Antarctic Peninsula, Weddell Sea and East Antarctica did not pass, members did agree to an extraordinary meeting of the Commission focused on MPAs next year with the hope to break some current barriers.

In other positive news, CCAMLR members agreed to a new resolution on climate change– the first in 13 years – to better incorporate climate change into CCAMLR decision-making and to encourage research, collaboration and engagement to tackle the climate crisis. It also agreed to the addition of eight new benthic areas to the Vulnerable Marine Ecosystem list which restricts fishing using gear that contacts the seafloor.

This was the first time CCAMLR met in person for three years as the COVID pandemic restricted meetings to being held virtually. Over the past two weeks, nations considered a range of topics from conservation measures for krill and krill fisheries management, climate change, and large-scale marine protected areas (MPAs) that would provide significant progress towards international commitments to protect 30% of our ocean by 2030 (30x30).

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) highlighted we face a new urgency to protect critical ocean habits, iconic marine wildlife and a key species of the marine food web – Antarctic krill.

Ahead of the opening of the meeting, WWF presented a ground-breaking new report - Antarctic Krill : Powerhouse of the Southern Ocean – with new science highlighting the increasingly important role krill play in the marine ecosystem and the growing evidence of their contribution to ‘blue carbon’ processes in the Southern Ocean. It highlights carbon storage services worth an estimated US$15.2 billion per year on the Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia – the main area where most industrial krill fishing occurs. In response to the recommendations in this report, CCAMLR recognised the need to consider blue carbon research in their decision-making.

The delegation from Chile highlighted recent innovative work by WWF and science partners to protect ‘blue corridors’ for whales stressing the urgency to implement measures to safeguard migratory superhighways between breeding locations in the tropics and feeding grounds in the Antarctic. WWF highlighted how large scale CCAMLR MPAs are a critical nature-based solution for krill and predators such as whales.

Emily Grilly, WWF Antarctic Conservation Manager said:
“Antarctic krill contribute to the global carbon cycle with krill storing millions of tonnes of carbon annually. They are also a key species of the Antarctic marine food web. As climate change further warms the Southern Ocean and sea ice melts, we may see catastrophic impacts on krill with ripple effects on the iconic species that depend on them as prey – whales, penguins, seabirds, seals, and fish. Antarctic MPAs will have positive impacts for marine species and their migratory corridors.”

While there were some positives this year, there was still a concerning glacial pace to negotiations and a lack of collaboration that needs to change urgently. Emily Grilly said:

“Antarctica is a place designated for peace and science. CCAMLR must prioritize conservation over harvesting, delivering on their commitment to designate MPAs along with stronger and more precautionary krill fisheries management. This is urgent. We need to find ways to better collaborate now as we are seeing growing issues due to the krill fishing industry concentrating efforts in small areas while iconic wildlife feed. This is causing increased fisheries bycatch of non-target species. The time for action is now.”

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