A new report calls for protection measures in the Antarctic Weddell Sea, one of the world’s last, intact ecosystems. Cooperation between Germany and Russia could help achieve a better situation.
Located to the south of the Atlantic Ocean, the Weddell Sea region is renowned for having one of the most intact ecosystems left on earth and for being a major engine of global ocean circulation.
An alliance of leading environment groups called the Antarctic Ocean Alliance's (AOA) has launched a new report entitled "Antarctic Ocean Legacy: Towards Protection of the Weddell Sea Region." It’s part of the group’s recent proposal to designate marine protected areas (MPA) and marine reserves across 19 regions around Antarctica.
The findings in the report aim to support ongoing scientific and policy work in the region.
New Russian position?
"Recognising the ecological importance of the Wedell Sea, Germany, in collaboration with Russia, is leading the process that will bring about the protection of this crucial area," said Steve Campbell, AOA Campaign Director at the launch of the report.
"AOA supports this collaboration and welcomes Russia's commitment to implementing marine protected areas."
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is responsible for conducting inter-governmental negotiations on creating a network of marine protected areas (MPA) in the Antarctic.
At the last major conference of the commission last year, Russia prevented the creation of two large MPAs. Now the country is working with Germany on a proposal to protect the Weddell Sea.
Threat from fishing and climate change
The ice-covered Weddell Sea, which covers an area of 2.8 million square kilometers (1.08 million square miles) and varies in depth from 500 to 5000 metres, is renowned for its huge diversity of marine life.
"Large, fully protected marine reserves are essential to ensure that the incredible biodiversity of the Weddell Sea remains intact," said Andrea Kavanagh from the Pew Charitable Trusts organization.
The report also draws attention to the vulnerability of the area to the effects of climate change and ocean acidification. It shows that there are major differences between the West Antarctic, around the Antarctic peninsula, and the East Antarctic. West Antarctica is one of the regions of the world that is warming fastest, resulting in a decline of sea ice. The eastern part has seen an increase in sea ice in recent years.
"Protecting the Weddell Sea in a network of large-scale marine reserves will help krill populations and higher predators like whales, seals and Emperor penguins to continue thriving," said Bob Zuurj, manager of WWF's Antarctic and Southern Ocean Initative.
He added that it will also help ensure that the region remains resilient in the face of ocean acidification, climate change and increased fishing interests.
The long path to Antarctic Ocean protection
In its report the AOA calls on Germany and Russia to come up with a strong proposal for marine protected areas in the Weddell Sea in 2015. In the meantime, it is calling on countries that are party to the CCAMLR to designate large-scale, permanent and ecologically-diverse MPAs in East Antarctica and the Ross Sea this year.
"The commission's member countries have a duty to establish comprehensive protection for Antarctic waters but they have not been able to designate the Ross Sea and East Antarctic as reserves, despite years of meetings and discussions," said Andrea Kavanagh.
"We welcome the cooperation between Germany and Russia on the Weddell Sea proposal," she said, adding that she hopes the commission will now make progress at its next meeting in October.