A growing swell of support for historic ocean conservation

Posted on 08 July 2021

The European Parliament calls on President von der Leyen to protect the Southern Ocean
588 Members of the European Parliament have supported a resolution calling on European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to secure protection of the Southern Ocean this year.

The EU is proposing two large-scale marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, in the East Antarctic and the Weddell Sea. If both sites were to be designated, it would be the largest act of ocean protection in history, covering more than 3 million km2. The proposals are being considered by the consensus-based organisation, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR) [1].

In 2009, CCAMLR Members agreed to establish a representative network of MPAs throughout the Southern Ocean. In 2016, the largest marine reserve on Earth was passed protecting 2 million km2 of ocean in the Ross Sea MPA; key ocean habitat for penguins, seals, whales, fish and Antarctic krill – the key species of the South Ocean food web. Since then, there has been little progress to establish MPAs as geopolitics and lack of consensus dominate scientific-based negotiations at CCAMLR.

In her State of the Union speech in September 2020, European Commission President von der Leyen, committed to, “... use our diplomatic strength and economic clout to broker agreements that make a difference – such as designating maritime protected areas in Antarctica.” Today’s resolution is calling on the President to act on that commitment in the coming weeks.

The EU is well positioned to be a catalyst for significant impact, promoting consensus for the existing marine protected area proposals ahead of this year’s CCAMLR meeting in Hobart, Australia (October 2021, exact dates TBD).

“The overwhelming support for this resolution is a clear message to President von der Leyen and world leaders that urgent action is required to protect the habitats and species that are critical to safeguarding Antarctic biodiversity,” said Dr Antonia Leroy, Head of Ocean Policy at WWF European Policy Office, “High-level engagement in the lead up to the annual CCAMLR meeting is essential to make progress towards establishing a representative network of MPAs in the Southern Ocean.”

Antarctic ice is melting at a rapid pace, with potentially catastrophic effects for coastal zones around the world - a record high temperature of 18.30C has been recorded on the Antarctic Peninsula [2], and the observed melting of the Thwaites glacier [3] in West Antarctica risks a 0.5 metre sea level rise.

“MPAs are a globally recognized tool for biodiversity conservation and a nature-based solution for building climate resilience by providing space for nature to adapt to the accelerating effects of climate change”, said Emily Grilly, Antarctic Conservation Manager at WWF-Australia, “This resolution stands as an important reminder for the need to establish a representative network of MPAs in the Southern Ocean, which will contribute to achieving global conservation goals and the protection of 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.”

  1. CCAMLR is a consensus-based organisation made up of 25 countries and the EU.
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-57676695
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-51097309
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae) feeding in Fournier Bay, Antarctic Peninsula, December 2018.
© Chris Johnson / WWF-Aus