Environment & Biodiversity

India’s Support for Marine Protected Areas in Antarctica

India has pledged its continued support for the establishment of two Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Antarctica to protect marine life and the ecosystem services it provides.

What are Marine Protected Areas?

  • An MPA is a defined area that is managed for the long-term conservation of marine resources, ecosystem functions, or cultural heritage.
  • They can be created in national and international waters to protect the biodiversity of the marine environment.

Criteria for establishing MPAs

  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has created a collection of criteria for identifying and managing marine protected areas. (MPAs). These are some of the criteria:
  • MPAs should include a diverse range of habitats, ecosystems, and species that are representative of the region.
  • Biological diversity: MPAs should conserve a wide range of biodiversity, including species, habitats, and genetic diversity.
  • Rare, unique, or endemic animals or habitats should be protected by MPAs.
  • Productivity: MPAs should protect high-productivity areas, such as spawning and nursery grounds.
  • MPAs should safeguard ecosystems that can withstand disturbances and recover from harm.
  • MPAs should protect key ecological processes such as nutrient cycling and migration patterns.
  • Connectivity: MPAs should be connected to other protected areas to enable for the movement of species and genetic material.
  • Cultural and social significance: MPAs should take into account the cultural and social significance of the area to local communities.

MPA in focus: Southern Ocean

  • The Southern Ocean, which encircles Antarctica, covers around 10 per cent of the global ocean and is home to nearly 10,000 unique polar species.
  • The ecosystem is an important source of marine resources, including fish and krill, which support commercial fisheries and provide a food source for larger animals.

Threats to the Southern Ocean and its marine life

  • Climate change is having an impact on the Southern Ocean, altering habitats such as sea ice and the sheltered seafloor beneath ice shelves, which are home to a diversity of species.
  • Commercial fishing, particularly for krill (shrimp-like crustacean), is also threatening the ecosystem.

Antarctica requires a marine protected area.

  • The Southern Ocean requires protection to mitigate the effects of climate change and economic exploitation.
  • A new MPA would aid in the conservation of the region’s marine resources and distinct biodiversity by limiting human activities such as fishing, mining, and drilling.

Existing MPAs in the Southern Ocean

The Southern Ocean presently has two MPAs:

  • In the southern shelf of the South Orkney Islands and
  • In the Ross Sea

These MPAs protect only 5% of the ocean, with all fishing except scientific study banned within the South Orkney Islands MPA’s southern shelf.

Resistance to proposed MPAs 

  • Proposals to establish MPAs in East Antarctica, the Weddell Sea, and the waters surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula have been met with resistance by China and Russia.
  • The two countries have a different view than the rest of the members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which is an intergovernmental body set up in 1982 to conserve Antarctic marine life.

India’s interest in the commercial exploitation of krill

  • India has expressed an interest in commercialising krill in the region.
  • However, increased krill harvesting endangers animals that feed on them, such as fish, whales, seals, penguins, and other seabirds.

Contribution of proposed MPAs to the United Nations 30×30 Framework

  • If the proposed MPAs take form in Antarctica, they will add to the United Nations 30×30 Framework, which aims to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and sea.
  • This agreement was reached in 2022 during the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

@the end

  • The majority of countries have agreed in principle to establish MPAs in Antarctica, which will be discussed further at the next Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.
  • The establishment of MPAs in Antarctica is critical for preserving the region’s marine resources and unique biodiversity, as well as adding to worldwide conservation efforts.
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