By Mera McGrew
Flags from countries across the globe are flying on Macquarie Street in Hobart, Tasmania. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is meeting and over 200 marine scientists, natural resource managers, marine policy makers, and diplomats from around the world have descended upon the flag-lined streets of Hobart, the most populated city of the Australian island state of Tasmania.
CCAMLR is the body that manages the marine living resources of the Southern Ocean and decides on long-term protection and regulations within this region. First established in 1982 by international convention, it is an international commission made up of 24 countries and the European Union. CCAMLR member states meet once a year with limited public participation and no media access.
This year marks the 31st annual CCAMLR meeting and milestone discussions are expected to take place behind closed doors. With a target date of 2012 set to establish a network of Antarctic marine protected areas (MPAs), there is potential for the world’s largest marine sanctuary in the Southern Ocean to be established in the coming days.
More specifically, leaders gathered in Hobart are expected to consider proposals for the protection of two critical areas in the Southern Ocean: protection for the Ross Sea, the most intact ocean ecosystem left on earth; and protection for 1.9 million square kilometers of coastal area in the East Antarctic. Most countries support increased protection of the Southern Ocean and the establishment of a sanctuary, but Russia, South Korea and a few others threaten to stand in the way.
Now, more than ever, researchers, conservationists, activists and public stakeholders worldwide are putting pressure on CCAMLR member states. Individuals want world leaders to know increased protection of the Southern Ocean is desired globally. To ensure that governments take note and listen to the public, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) was launched in February 2012 to give a unified and amplified voice for increased, far-reaching protection of the Southern Ocean.
“There is huge support from people around the world for their nations to grasp this opportunity and protect this near-pristine ocean region this year, while we still can,” AOA Campaign Director, Steve Campbell stated. “Protecting the East Antarctic coastal region, Ross Sea and the retreating ice-shelves would be a great start to show that, in fact, it can and should be done for the benefit of all of the world.”
Mission Blue, The PEW Charitable Trust, NRDC, and many others have joined AOA in their efforts to gain increased protection in the Southern Ocean. Dr. Sylvia Earle, Sir Richard Branson, Ed Norton, and Leonardo DiCaprio have lent their voices to protect the penguins, whales and countless other animals that call the frigid Antarctic waters home. Join the nearly 200,000 people who have joined the efforts of AOA and/or add your name to the over 800,000 signatures on Leonardo DiCaprio’s petition urging CCAMLR Members to act decisively on securing protection in Antarctic waters now.
This week, the member countries of CCAMLR have a unique opportunity to set a global precedent of what can be done to protect the high seas through the establishment of a comprehensive network of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean.