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Adelie penguins on Adelaide Island
Image: Imago/blickwinkel

Plans for world's largest sanctuary put on hold

November 2, 2018

While 22 governments in the CCAMLR supported the plan for a new Antarctic Ocean sanctuary, Russia, China and Norway did not. Motives behind the stalled plan include overfishing, pollution and climate change.


The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has been meeting in Hobart, Australia over the last two weeks.

On Friday, the Commission's meeting broke up without an agreement for three new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) — in East Antarctica, in the Weddell Sea, and in the Western Antarctic Peninsula — which would have turned a huge area of ocean off the Antarctic into the world's largest sanctuary. 

The 1.8 million square kilometer (roughly 695,000 square mile) area would be five times the size of Germany and offer protection to penguins, killer whales, leopard seals and blue whales.

Plans are for the sanctuary to ring-fence the waters and restrict commercial fishing and other human activity. This would include any future attempt to mine the seabed or drill for oil.

A group of penguins in Antarctica
A group of penguins in AntarcticaImage: picture-alliance/blickwinkel/A. Rose

A 37th meeting

No MPAs were designated at the Commission's 37th annual meeting: "Members will continue to work intersessionally on proposals for these MPAs before they are again considered at next year's meeting," the CCAMLR said its closing statement on Friday. 

The Commission is made up of 24 countries plus the EU and is responsible for making decisions about the waters around Antarctica, the southernmost continent and site of the South Pole.

As each of the members has to agree before a new sanctuary can be designated, to protect against overfishing and pollution for example, a small minority of members can impede progress.

Environmentalists object

Environmentalists were quick to condemn the Commission for missing the opportunity to protect the area. "Twenty-two delegations came here to negotiate in good faith but, instead, serious scientific proposals for urgent marine protection were derailed by interventions which barely engaged with the science," said Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace.

Scientists had said the sanctuary would be important in terms of tackling climate change as the Antarctic absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

In 2011, the CCAMLR agreed to create a network of MPAs in the Southern Ocean by 2020. As 2018 draws to a close, only two have been designated.

The United Nations is to discuss a new global ocean treaty which would create new, protected areas covering a third of the world's oceans.

A journey to the Antarctica

jm/msh (dpa, AFP)

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