The Arctic Ocean with snow-covered mountains in the background Source: axily -

Germany Requests Marine Protected Area in Antarctica

On 17 October 2016, the European Union presented a request prepared by Germany for a marine protected area (MPA) in the Antarctic Weddell Sea to the International Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

The scientific basis of this request was provided by researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). The 35th meeting of the CCAMLR is taking place in Hobart (Tasmania) from 17 to 28 October 2016. The decision on the establishment of the marine protected area must be taken unanimously by all CCAMLR members.

The Commission, which comprises representatives from 24 Member States and the European Union, is currently engaged in a multiannual process to develop the scientific basis for a representative network of marine protected areas in the Antarctic Ocean. The Weddell Sea is one of a total of nine planning regions in the CCAMLR convention area which covers the entire Antarctic Ocean. The German proposal refers to an area of around 1.8 million square kilometres, i.e. five times the size of Germany. It would be by far the world's largest marine protected area.

One of the last practically pristine regions in Antarctica

The Weddell Sea

The Weddell Sea extends from the south-east of South America over an area of approx. 2.8 million square kilometres. It is home to about 14,000 animal species. Marine biologists have compared the diversity of species in the Antarctic Ocean to that of tropical reefs. Since the discovery of the Weddell Sea in 1823, there has been almost no commercial fishing in this area due to the almost impassable ice. This unique and largely untouched area is home to marine animal communities and ecosystems that have adapted to Antarctic living conditions over millions of years.

Federal Minister Christian Schmidt emphasised: "The Weddell Sea is one of the last practically pristine regions in Antarctica. The international fishing fleet has so far steered clear of this area. To ensure things stay that way, we must place the majority of the marine areas of interest to fisheries in this region under protection. Commercial fisheries would pose a major threat to the vulnerable populations of the approx. 14,000 animal species in the Weddell Sea. The marine protected area should be reserved for scientific research purposes only and should strengthen international cooperation in this region. These are the pillars of the Antarctic Treaty. It is our historical task to protect unique ecosystems like Antarctica."

Germany has for a long time strongly supported international efforts to protect the marine areas in Antarctica.

Experts at the Alfred Wegener Institute have collected and evaluated hundreds of thousands of data from the Weddell Sea over the last four years. They have thus created a considerable scientific basis for the targeted and effective protection of the vulnerable marine animal communities and ecosystems that have adapted to the Antarctic living conditions over millions of years.

"Our studies show that climate change has so far had little impact on this marine region," explained Prof Dr Karin Lochte, Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute. Lochte said that this meant that the Weddell Sea had an important function as a retreat area for cold-loving species and added: "The region is also a valuable reference area for basic scientific research. We are therefore very interested in ensuring that future research in this unique and largely pristine area is not jeopardised by destructive human activities."

Proposals for marine protected areas in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica

Two proposals for the establishment of marine protected areas in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica, prepared by other CCAMLR Member States (New Zealand/USA and France/EU/Australia) were submitted in 2012. These provide for measures to conserve and sustainably use other particularly sensitive areas in Antarctica.

However, the CCAMLR Commission has not yet been able to agree on the establishment of the two proposed marine protected areas. Several states voiced general legal concerns on the designation of marine protected areas, some other states questioned the layout and timeframe of the proposed measures. Negotiations will be continued with the objective being to adopt the proposals at the CCAMLR annual meeting in October 2016. The federal government strongly supports the two proposals for marine protected areas.

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