First High Seas Marine Protected Area in Antarctica

Written by on November 30, 2009 in Policy & Ocean Law

Celia-Inés Ammann

Bransfield Strait - Credit: Lyubomir Ivanov

Bransfield Strait – Credit: Lyubomir Ivanov

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) approved a new high seas marine protected area south of the South Orkney Islands in the Antarctic Peninsula Region.  The Commission further agreed to a work plan to create networks of high seas MPAs across 11 other high priority areas in the Southern Ocean by 2012.

This protection eliminates fishing, gives scientists a special opportunity to study the effects of climate change and is the result of four years of development work that covers 94,000 square km (58,500 square miles).  The new MPA is an area of high biological productivity, a key habitat for krill and an important foraging area for Adelie penguins.  Submarine shelves and seamounts within the area also contain important habitats for benthic (bottom dwelling) creatures.

Fishing banned in new Antarctica MPA - © Stephen McGowan - Australian Maritime College/2007 Marine Photobank

Fishing banned in new Antarctica MPA – © Stephen McGowan – Australian Maritime College/2007 Marine Photobank

A recent comprehensive study in and around the South Orkney Islands by researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Hamburg found the region was home to 1,200 species of sea and land animals – more than the Galapagos Islands. A third of these were not previously known to live in the region and five species were entirely new to science.

The Orkney Islands MPA will also play a key role in detecting climate change.  It is easier to detect changes to the distribution of species around the South Orkney Islands than many other areas in the Southern Ocean.  Such changes, far from the impact of humans, could act as early indicators of climate change near Antarctica.

According to scientists, changes to species distribution would likely occur as the waters around the islands become warmer.  Under these conditions, some species may shift south to cooler regions while others species used to more temperate conditions could move in.

Compiled from materials of WWF International.

Copyright ©  2009 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

About the Author

About the Author: Celia is Director of Business Operations for OceanLines LLC and is a frequent contributor to both OceanLines and Marine Science Today. She is a certified diver and her favorite topic is marine biology, especially stories about whales. .

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