Antarctica Marine Reserves


The oceans around Antarctica are not owned by any one nation. They are in international waters belonging to us all. They are among the most pristine waters in the world, and due to their remote location and extreme weather conditions, one of the last places on the planet largely untouched by human activity. Photo: John Weller

Grant Recipient:  Oceans 5
Project Support:  Establishing Marine Reserves in Antarctica
Term:  2011 – 2014

Oceans occupy more than 70 percent of our planet. According to marine scientists, however, nothing is as fundamentally damaging to marine ecosystems as overfishing. Constraining overfishing and establishing marine reserves are among the most important actions that can be taken to protect and restore the world’s oceans. These actions are the focus of Oceans 5.

An unprecedented and significant opportunity to establish large marine reserves exists in marine waters surrounding Antarctica. This opportunity is particularly unique because it involves international waters beyond the jurisdiction of any one nation. Hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of ecologically important and relatively pristine ocean waters are at stake.

The Antarctic Opportunity


These waters are home to 15,500 species, many of which can be found nowhere else on Earth, including Adelie and emperor penguins, Antarctic petrals and minke whales, Ross Sea killer whales, and South Pacific Wedddell seals. Photo: John Weller

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has binding international authority in the waters of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. In 2005, CCAMLR committed to establish a network of representative marine protected areas by 2012 and subsequently, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) was launched in October 2011. The Ross Sea and three large no-take reserves in East Antarctica are among eleven areas under active consideration in CCAMLR’s scientific process.

The Ross Sea is a great wilderness that few humans have seen firsthand. It provides critical habitat for hundreds of species of birds, mammals, fish, and invertebrates, including 38% of the world’s Adélie penguins and 26% of the world’s emperor penguins, Antarctic petrels, Antarctic minke whales, Arnoux’s beaked whales (found only in the Southern Ocean), killer whales, Weddell seals, crabeater seals, leopard seals, and colossal squid, among others. It is also a haven for endemic species of fish and invertebrates.

No marine system in the world remains completely undisturbed by humans. But to date, the Ross Sea has sustained less damage than almost any other open ocean ecosystem. There has been no widespread pollution; no mineral extraction (prohibited under terms of the Antarctic Treaty); its fish have not yet been depleted beyond recovery; it has not experienced large anoxic dead zones; and there is no evidence to date of alien species introductions. Importantly, it contains a full suite of top predators. With the exception of blue whales (which were killed in large numbers during the heyday of commercial whaling), the natural predators that existed in the Ross Sea before the arrival of humans are at or close to their historical levels.


Campaign Goals

This campaign will focus on communicating two principal public objectives:

1) A no-take marine reserve in the Ross Sea, including the continental slope to a depth of 3,000 meters. This would secure protection for almost 650,000 square kilometers or roughly two percent of the Southern Ocean; and,

2) Three large no-take marine reserves in East Antarctic waters and several additional areas along the Peninsula. These additional areas in East Antarctica and along the Peninsula could potentially include several hundred thousand square kilometers.

The success of this campaign should be judged as to whether it secures a no-take reserve of at least 500,000 square kilometers in the Ross Sea and at least 200,000 square kilometers in other areas by the end of 2013. Such an accomplishment would be a remarkable success for the world’s oceans. It would become the largest network of marine reserves on Earth. They would be the largest in areas beyond national jurisdiction and this will occur in one of the most unique, ecologically sensitive areas in the world.


In 1991, the international community declared a 50-year moratorium on mining and other commercial exploration on the land of Antarctica, that protection did not extend to the oceans, leaving it exposed to increasing pressure from oil and gas exploitation. Photo: John Weller

Campaign Update

During the course of 2012 AOA has established a fast paced, focused and international campaign, spanning four continents. They launched their first report on the Ross Sea in New Zealand in February 2012, their Circumpolar report in London in May 2012 and their report on the East Antarctic Coastal Region in Australia in September 2012. AOA has also had campaign launches in China and Korea during the year.

The online work has grown exponentially, with 174,000 people signing the AOA on-line petition and over 1.2 million people taking action around the world. They have attracted celebrity endorsement and help from Leonardo DiCaprio, Ed Norton, Sam Neill, Ted Danson, Dr Sylvia Earle, Sir Richard Branson, and Yoo Jie-Tae (a famous Korean actor).

At CCAMLR XXXI in Hobart in October 2012 the campaign came extremely close to winning the first two MPAs in the network – 1.6 million km2 in the Ross Sea (a fully no take area) and 1.9 million km2 in East Antarctica. However due to resistance from Russia, China and the Ukraine, the meeting failed to reach consensus. On a positive note, the Alliance and partners were instrumental in achieving consistent external and internal pressure on the decision makers, which resulted in agreement for an extraordinary intercessional of the Science Committee and the Commission in July 2013 (only the second time this has happened in 30 years).

Having established a campaign presence in Beijing and Moscow in 2012, the team will be redoubling efforts in those capitals, whilst maintaining their established work in other countries, in order to press for decisions at the earliest possible moment in 2013. AOA will also establish a presence in South America. They will be holding a strategy meeting with all partners in Hong Kong in January 2013, and pushing on for a major result this year. From 2013 to 2014 a number of other proposals are expected to emerge for the Antarctic Peninsula and the Weddell Sea.

About Oceans 5

Oceans 5 is a global funder’s collaborative, comprised of new and experienced philanthropists, committed to protecting the five oceans of the planet. The group collectively focuses its investments and support on large-scale, opportunistic projects and campaigns aimed at significantly expanding marine reserves and constraining overfishing.


Oceans 5 Website
Antarctic Ocean Alliance Website


While other marine ecosystems are being threatened and destroyed by development, pollution, mining, oil and gas exploitation, and overfishing, Antarctica's Ross Sea - often referred to as the "Serengeti" of the seas - remains one of the most intact ecosystems on the planet, with large populatiouns of top predators present. Photo: John Weller


New Alliance calls for unprecedented protection for Antarctica’s oceans


WASHINGTON, DC, 29 February 2012 – The Antarctic Ocean Alliance, an international collective of environmental organizations and high-profile supporters, have come together to call for the world’s largest network of marine protected areas and no-take marine reserves to be established to protect Antarctica’s Southern Ocean.


The Alliance’s public campaign “Join the Watch”, launched around the world today, is inviting a global audience to participate in the campaign and its call for Antarctic marine protection.


Alliance members and supporters include actor, activist and UN Biodiversity Ambassador Edward Norton, Oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, as well as 16 environmental and conservation organizations including Greenpeace, WWF, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Oceans 5 and Mission Blue.


The regulatory body responsible for this region – the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) – has agreed to create a network of marine protected areas in some of the ocean around Antarctica. However, CCAMLR meets with limited public participation and no media access and the Alliance believes that, without public attention during the process, only minimal protection will be achieved.


“The fate of the Antarctic marine environment is about to be decided and the world knows nothing about it,” said Alliance Campaign Director Steve Campbell. “Now is the time to protect this amazing environment but we’ll need the global public involved to make that happen.”


In agreeing to “Join the Watch”, Edward Norton said, “There’s a moment of opportunity here to apply pressure and send a signal that millions of people are watching this process and are saying, ’Don’t let us down.’”                                                                       


Antarctic waters make up almost 10% of the world’s seas and are some of the most pristine left on earth. Home to almost 10,000 unique and diverse species such as penguins, seals and whales, these waters are now at risk from the impacts of commercial fishing and climate change. The Alliance is calling for 19 critical habitats in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean to be protected, starting with the Ross Sea.


The group released a report in New Zealand today entitled: “Antarctic Ocean Legacy: A marine reserve for the Ross Sea” at a reception for Parliamentarians in Wellington. The report provides the rationale for protection of the Ross Sea region. The Antarctic Ocean Alliance proposal builds on and strengthens the current Ross Sea scenarios of the US and New Zealand governments, encompassing three additional areas with environmental features and critical habitats for the protection of this unique ocean ecosystem. If established, it would be the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve, totalling 3.6 million square kilometres.

“The waters of Antarctica have become attractive for industrial scale fishing because fish close to where people live really don’t exist in large numbers anymore,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle. “We know we have a problem, we now need to do something about it – that’s why we are calling on people to “Join the Watch” to help protect this amazing environment.”


The Alliance is launching a video today featuring interviews with Edward Norton and Sylvia Earle asking the public to sign a petition to CCAMLR calling for large-scale marine protection for Antarctica and “Join the Watch”.


Michael Holland, Edelman: 212 642 7760

Blair Palese, AOA: +61414659511

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