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Bradnee Chambers, executive secretary of the United Nations Environment ProgrammeConvention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, contributed this article toLiveScience’sExpert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
At the end of last year, representatives from the U.S., the European Union and more than 30 other nations met in the Tasmanian city of Hobart, Australia. It was the thirty-second meeting of a commission tasked with protecting Antarctica’s lifefrom risks to the continent’s nearly pristine ecosystems.
The nations, members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), were following through on obligations from the international treaty that established the commission in 1982 to conserve the marine animals of Antarctica, and in particular, its krill resources.
Krill is especially abundant in the global food web, and as a result, scientists estimate that three-quarters of all marine life is maintained by the nutrient-rich waters from Antarctica’s Southern Ocean.
At the Hobart conference, the commission’s member states discussed establishing two international marine protected areas in Antarctica, which would have been the world’s largest. Each would have exceeded 1 million square kilometres (620,000 square miles). The Ross Sea and Eastern Antarctic zones would have doubled the area of fully protected ocean covered as marine protected areas to two per cent of the world’s oceans, with a surface five times the size of France.
However, the negotiations failed, once again, because member states could not reach consensus. However, some delegates were confident that enough progress was made to achieve a breakthrough at the next meeting at the end of 2014.
Why are Antarctic marine protected areas so important? The Pew Environment Group states that the region is vital to sustaining the majority of the planet’s marine life. Marine protected areas have proved to be effective in revitalizingthe health of aquatic life not only in the reserves themselves but also in adjacent waters, such as in the Leigh Marine Reserve in New Zealand where productive fish stocks inside the reserve have migrated into the surrounding waters and increased densities. In addition, protecting Antarctic waters could help mitigate the impact of climate change on the marine environment by building resilience for ecosystems.
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