Australia, France and the European Union have proposed a representative system of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the high seas of East Antarctica covering 1.9 million square kilometres.

The proposal will be considered by the 2012 annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) which begins in Hobart on Monday 22 October.

The leader of the Australian delegation to CCAMLR and Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Tony Fleming, said that proposal includes areas along the east Antarctic coast which will regulate activities to conserve the biodiversity and values of the areas.

“The MPAs will protect those parts that are vulnerable to disturbance and which play an important ecological role such as providing krill and toothfish nurseries, and marine mammal and penguin foraging areas,” Dr Fleming said.

“Three of the seven areas are proposed as scientific reference areas to gauge the future impacts of climate change on the productivity and ecology of the region.

“The proposal recognises that rational use of marine living resources can be conducted in the CCAMLR Area but will need to be specially managed to ensure that the conservation values are protected.”

Only activities that are assessed to be consistent with the objectives of the MPAs would be approved by CCAMLR and this may include fishing activities in some parts of the MPAs.

Dr Fleming said that this proposal has been in development since 2010 and provides a balanced outcome, protecting high conservation value areas, while allowing sustainable fishing in other parts of east Antarctica.

“Its science has already been endorsed by the CCAMLR Scientific Committee, a necessary step before it is considered by the Commission.

“The decision-making process requires consensus across the CCAMLR member countries to adopt the MPAs.

“CCAMLR has been working towards a network of Southern Ocean MPAs by 2012,” Dr Fleming said.

Other MPA proposals being considered at this CCAMLR meeting are for the Ross Sea and for ice shelves in the Antarctic Peninsula region.

The seven MPAs that make up the representative system proposed by Australia, France and the EU are Gunnerus, Enderby, MacRobertson, Prydz, Drygalski, Wilkes and Mertz.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was established in 1982 under the Convention of the same name. The sole objective of the Convention is the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources where the definition of conservation includes rational use The 24 Member nations and the European Union make up the 25 Members of CCAMLR. CCAMLR is the international decision-making body for the majority of the Southern Ocean covered by the Convention.