Marine Protected Areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a tried and tested tool for the protection of marine biodiversity and they can also have other benefits such as for improving fisheries management.
The new marine protected area in the Ross Sea was created by a unanimous decision of the international body that oversees the waters around Antarctica—the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources—and was announced at the commission's annual meeting in Tasmania, October 2016.

Marine protected areas also have a potential role to play in building resilience to climate change by reducing a range of stresses on marine ecosystems and allowing the systems to respond to the demands of climate change. They can even help to create new roles and jobs for wardens or guides.

In line with international political commitments made at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, WWF wants to see ecologically representative networks of Southern Ocean MPAs. WWF called on Antarctic Treaty parties to mark International Polar Year (IPY), which ran from March 2007 - March 2009, by committing to the development of a comprehensive network of MPAs which protect the full range of Southern Ocean biodiversity.

On the ground (or in the water), WWF is working with national governments and local communities and stakeholders in Argentina, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand to establish new marine protected areas which provide greater protection for marine wildlife.

Southern Ocean Marine Protected Areas

The Antarctic Treaty system is the regime most relevant to the development of a network of MPAs in the Southern Ocean. The most relevant components of the system are the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty also known as the 'Madrid Protocol' and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The Madrid Protocol is administered through the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCMs) and the Committee for Environment Protection (CEP), while CCAMLR is administered through the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

Provisions for the development of MPAs are well established under both the Madrid Protocol and CCAMLR but, so far, have not been used to their full potential. Annex V of the Madrid Protocol provides for the designation of any marine area as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) or Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA).

A small number of ad hoc marine ASPAs and ASMAs have been designated, but not with any methodical consideration of how they fit into a ‘systematic environmental-geographic framework’ as is required by Annex V of the Madrid Protocol. CCAMLR also provides for area-based conservation and management measures. The Madrid Protocol and CCAMLR have independent approaches to MPAs but an obligation to cooperate. Despite the high priority that the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) accords to environmental protection, the development of an MPA system for the Antarctic marine environment is only in its infancy.

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Bioregionalisation, a spatial analysis that identifies the natural boundaries between habitats and assemblages of animals and plants, of the oceans and seas is envisaged as an important first step towards identifying networks of marine protected areas. Bioregionalisation of the Southern Ocean is relevant to a number of areas of Southern Ocean management but particularly in the establishment of a comprehensive and representative network of Southern Ocean marine protected areas.

In 2005, a Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) Workshop on marine protected areas considered the scientific work required for the development of a system of protected areas. A broad-scale bioregionalisation of the Southern Ocean was identified as an important first step.

In September 2006, WWF and the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC), funded by Peregrine Adventures, brought together technical experts from around the world to develop a "proof of concept" for bioregionalisation of the Southern Ocean - a process which should lead to the identification of networks of marine protected areas.

The Workshop was a huge success and the outcome (see web link) was made available to the Scientific Committee of CCAMLR, where it was endorsed. It is now expected to form the basis of further discussions due to take place in August 2007, when Southern Ocean scientists attend a CCAMLR / CEP Workshop with the aim of providing advice on a bioregionalisation of the Southern Ocean, including where possible, advice on smaller-scale delineation of provinces and potential areas for protection.
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Ross Sea and Balleny Islands

The Ross Sea, almost 1 million km2, lies at the southern limit of the Pacific Ocean sector of Antarctica. The sea bears the name of the 19th century explorer James Clark Ross who discovered the Sea in 1841. The Ross Sea is between 300 and 900 meters deep, but to the north it plunges to depths of more than 4,000 meters. At the southernmost edge is what is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular features of Antarctica - the Ross Ice Shelf. It was from the Bay of Whales on the edge of the ice shelf, that Amundsen began his successful south pole expedition in 1911.

At the northwest corner of the Ross Ice Shelf is Ross Island, formed of three volcanoes. Arguably the most historically significant location in Antarctica, it was the base for the first historic attempts led by Scott, then Shackleton and then Scott again to reach the south pole. Today it is the site of the largest Antarctic base - the US’s McMurdo Station, nearby is New Zealand’s Scott Base.

The southern side of Ross Island is attached to the Ross Ice Shelf and it is also linked by ice shelf to Victoria Land - the waterway in between, which is usually free of ice in summer is known as McMurdo Sound. On the mainland coast of Victoria Land is Italy’s Terra Nova Bay Station. The sea ice around Ross Island does not break up until late January and re-forms in early April. At Cape Crozier on the easternmost point of Ross Island is the world’s southernmost penguin colony. This was the first Emperor penguin colony to be discovered in 1902 by Scott’s first Antarctic expedition.

The Ross Sea continental shelf is considered to be a physically and ecologically unique region of the Southern Ocean since the food web appears to be substantially different from most other areas. The inner Ross Sea over the continental shelf has characteristics distinct from those of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. The western part of the Ross Sea has a complex shelf and slope area along with the Balleny Islands and ridges of seamounts extending to the north (the Macquarie Ridge extending to the Campbell Plateau) and to the east.

The Ross Sea was the site of the recent capture in February 2007 of the largest recorded specimen of the colossal squid Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, the world’s largest living invertebrate. Of five recorded sightings of the colossal squid, believed to be a major prey item for Antarctic sperm whales and pacific sleeper sharks, two are from the Ross Sea. The latest specimen is nearly 10 metres long and is believed to weigh around half a tonne or nearly 500 kilograms. Other animals which feed on the juveniles or young adult colossal squid include beaked whales, pilot whales, southern elephant seal and Patagonian toothfish.

The primary classification from the 2006 Experts Workshop Bioregionalisation of the Southern Ocean (see Bioregionalisation) identifies the Ross Sea shelf and slope areas, however, some important features such as the Ross Sea polynya (a non-linear area of open water surrounded by sea ice) are not identified in the primary classification. WWF is now advocating a fine-scale bioregionalisation analysis of the Ross Sea and Balleny Islands as a priority step towards the identification and selection of candidate marine protected areas.

Ross Sea Strategy - background

In 2005, the New Zealand government undertook a public consultation on a long-term framework for management of marine living resources and biodiversity of the Ross Sea. Views were sought on the future management of the Ross Sea including the establishment of Antarctic special protected areas (APSAs) and Antarctic specially managed areas (ASMAs), development of an assessed fishery under CCAMLR, additional elements of a management framework and research priorities.

Following the public consultation, in March 2006, the New Zealand Cabinet approved a strategy for the future management of the marine living resources and biodiversity of the Ross Sea. The strategy focuses on seeking a balance between well managed sustainable harvesting and marine protection that, in particular, safeguards the long-term ecological viability of marine systems, protects biodiversity, and protects areas potentially vulnerable to human impacts.

Intermediate outcomes identified in the Strategy include the need to improve protection of the region’s environment and achieve better fisheries management within CCAMLR including successfully address illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. Components to deliver these outcomes include increasing New Zealand’s contribution to marine research and ecosystem monitoring in the Ross Sea, developing of a medium term management plan for the Ross Sea fishery, and promoting the establishment of marine protected areas on the high seas in the CCAMLR area.

WWF is calling for Antarctic Treaty and CCAMLR parties to provide greater protection for the Ross Sea and its unique biodiversity through the designation of marine protected areas. During the 2006 national consultation on the Ross Sea, non-governmental organizations and researchers identified a number of potential areas, including the Ross Sea Ice Shelf water shallower than 800m, the waters around the Balleny Islands, the waters around Scott Island, Victoria Land and coastal areas, McMurdo Sound, representative open ocean areas and seamounts, and a 10 - 15nm strip adjacent to the Antarctic and Ice Shelf coastline. A rigorous process is now necessary to determine the appropriate areas for protection.

Southern Indian Ocean

Considerable progress has already been made in the Southern Indian Ocean sector of the Southern Ocean. In 2002, WWF was involved in the Australian government designation of the Heard and MacDonald Marine Reserve.

At 65,000 km2, this is one of the largest marine reserves in the world -

WWF welcomed the 2006 announcement by the French government on the designation of MPAs in the Terres Australis et Antarctiques Francaises (TAAF) including waters around Kerguelen Island and the Crozet Islands in the French EEZ – this followed a WWF France awareness campaign to raise the profile of the need for greater protection for biodiversity in French overseas territories.

In 2007, WWF worked closely with the South African government and local stakeholders on the development of a management plan for the Prince Edward Islands marine protected area.

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