New measures to protect marine species in the Southern Ocean

Australian scientists and policy makers were at the forefront on a number of key initiatives at the 28th meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in November 2009. CCAMLR is part of the Antarctic Treaty system and is the primary forum for the conservation of the marine living resources of the Southern Ocean. This includes maintaining the diversity of species and carefully regulating fishing operations.

Two new measures were adopted to improve the management of krill populations in the Southern Ocean. Krill fishers will now be required to spread their effort over a larger area, rather than concentrate it in one spot, and are strongly encouraged to have scientific observers on board the fishing vessels.

Australia’s Commissioner to CCAMLR, Australian Antarctic Division Director Lyn Maddock, said these initiatives have significant implications.

'This is an important step in managing this fishery and ensuring fishing activities do not have adverse effects on krill populations or their predators in the long term,' she said.

'Observer coverage in the fishery is vital to collecting the data needed to assess the impacts of the fishery on the fragile Antarctic ecosystem.'

Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing remains a serious concern in the Southern Ocean. An Australian proposal for more rigorous port inspections of vessels carrying toothfish caught in the Convention Area was unanimously supported by the 25 Members representing 24 nations and the European Community. Another Australian proposal to streamline the catch documentation scheme to track the landings and movement of toothfish caught in the Convention Area, through a mandatory electronic system, was also adopted by CCAMLR. This is an important tool in the fight against IUU fishing.

The Commission also declared its first Marine Protected Area (MPA) at the South Orkney Islands. The MPA covers more than 90,000km2 near the Antarctic Peninsula. MPAs are used to protect important areas and are a tool for improved high seas biodiversity conservation and management, by controlling the types of activity that can take place within their borders. Ms Maddock said the declaration of the MPA was a first step towards a representative network of MPAs within the Southern Ocean.

'The South Orkney Islands MPA will conserve unique oceanographic features and important foraging areas used by albatrosses, petrels and penguins' Ms Maddock said.

Australia’s own Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve also came into the spotlight with the launch of the Field Identification Guide to Heard Island and McDonald Islands Benthic Invertebrates. The publication, by Ty Hibberd and Kirrily Moore, was a joint initiative of the Australian Antarctic Division and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. It is already being used as a training guide, and by trained CCAMLR scientific observers on fishing vessels, to identify invertebrate bycatch in the Heard Island and McDonald Islands region.

The guide contains more than 600 photos and diagrams of invertebrates found in the depths of the Southern Ocean. Launching the guide at an Antarctic Division-hosted function for international delegates to CCAMLR, Ms Maddock said, ‘The guide helps to plug the gap in reference material to identify these species at sea. It is the first of its kind for this region and a credit to all those involved'. The field identification guide is available on the Heard Island website.

The next CCAMLR meeting will be held at its Hobart headquarters in October 2010.


Policy Advisor, Australian Antarctic Division