By Claire Christian
Yesterday, plans to create some of the world’s largest marine protected areas (MPAs) in Antarctica came to a screeching halt after Russia blocked progress. Although 24 nations and the EU had come to a special meeting in Germany specifically to consider proposals for MPAs in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica because they failed to make progress at their annual meeting in 2012, Russia made it clear that they did not intend to negotiate in good faith.
Even as other nations who had delayed progress on MPAs in the past showed their willingness to make a deal, Russia raised additional issues on legality and definition of terms that prevented consensus (required for all marine management decisions in Antarctica) from being reached.
At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, nations around the world pledged to establish representative networks of marine protected areas (MPAs) in their territorial waters. Very little progress has been made since – only one percent of the oceans is protected. In 2009, the member countries of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) took up this call and committed to establish a network of MPAs in the waters they manage, the Southern Ocean.
While it may not sound like a revolutionary step to support something many CCAMLR members had already supported at the WSSD, their pledge, if fulfilled, would be a major victory for high seas (i.e., areas outside individual national jurisdiction) conservation. WWF even gave CCAMLR a “Gift to the Earth” award in 2010 in recognition of this incredibly progressive decision, which had already resulted in the designation of the world’s first high seas MPA in the South Orkney Islands.
But promises aren’t always kept, and when it came time to make actual decisions some CCAMLR member countries refused to adopt the MPAs that were put on the table despite extensive discussions and the agreement of CCAMLR’s scientists that the proposals were based on the best available science for those areas. More....