Archives par mot-clé : Antarctique

Plans to establish Marine Protected Area in the Weddell Sea get rejected at annual CCAMLR meeting

Béatrice Schütte*
Doctor of Law, Aarhus University, Denmark, researcher.


Résumé : Échec des plans d’établissement d’une aire marine protégée dans la mer Weddell en Antarctique. Les membres de la Commission pour la conservation de la faune et de la flore marine Antarctique (Commission on the Conservation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources – CCAMLR) n’ont pas réussi à se mettre d’accord sur la création des nouvelles aires marines protégées en Antarctique. L’aire principale envisagée aurait été l’aire marine protégée la plus grande du monde. La zone prévue dans la mer devait couvrir un surface d’environ 1,8 millions de kilomètres quarrés – cinq fois le surface de l’Allemagne. Il est estimé que 14 000 espèces marines résident dans la mer Weddell qui reste peu affectée par la pêche internationale. Mais à cause du changement climatique, on attend une future dégradation de la glace marine et par conséquent une extension des activités de pêche et des autres activités humaines. La création des aires maritimes protégées en Antarctique pourrait être un moyen important par rapport à la maîtrise des effets du réchauffement global, car les océans du sud absorbent des quantités signifiantes de dioxyde de carbone.


The plans to establish a large marine protected area in the Antarctic Weddell Sea got rejected.

In October 2016, the European Commission had submitted a proposal developed by the German government for the establishment of a marine protected area in the Weddell Sea to the Commission on the Conservation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).1

The proposed MPA would have been the world’s largest, covering a surface of 1.8 million square kilometres – 5 times the size of Germany. It should have been part of a planned representative network of marine protected areas. The Weddell Sea is one of nine planning regions under the scope of the CCAMLR Convention covering the entire Antarctic ocean.2

The German Federal Minister of Nutrition and Agriculture, Christian Schmidt, stated that the Weddell Sea was “one of the last practically pristine regions in Antarctica”. Extending over 2.8 million square kilometres from the southeast of South America, the Weddell Sea is home to an estimated 14,000 animal species. Among these species are penguins, seals, toothfish, whales and large numbers of krill – the latter being essential nutrition to the former species.3 So far, the area has not been targeted by international fishing fleets, as the Weddell Sea is ice-covered most of the time. Due to climate change and the consequential decrease of the sea ice, there is an understandable concern that sooner or later the fishing activities will be extended to the area, particularly because of the rich stocks of krill and hake. In the area further north of the Weddell Sea, hundreds of thousands of tons of krill are being fished each year.4

Experts say that the Antarctic also plays a major role in mitigating climate change as the seas around the Antarctic absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the air.5

The project would have needed approval from all of the 24 CCAMLR members. Norway, Russia and China shared concerns regarding compliance issues and fishing rights and therefore rejected the plan.

The EU had also, together with France and Australia, suggested to establish four MPA’s on the east side of the Antarctic, covering a surface of approximately 1 million square kilometres. This proposal had already been amended compared to the initial one and in those areas fisheries and exploration activities would not have been prohibited but allowed in a controlled manner.


This project was also rejected by China and Russia.

These decisions were heavily criticised by environmental organisations like Greenpeace or WWF. According to a Greenpeace spokesperson, CCAMLR fails to fulfil its tasks when it allows its members to insist on their economic interests instead of focusing on the protection of the Antarctic.6 The CCAMLR did not comment the decision in detail and only published on its web page a statement according to which there had been “much discussion” and that these proposals would be considered again in next year’s meeting.7

The CCAMLR was established in 1982 by means of an international convention. Its purpose was to react to the increasing commercial interest in Antarctic krill and the overexploitation of marine resources in the Southern Ocean.8  The CAMLR Convention covers all Antarctic populations of finfish, molluscs, crustacean and sea birds south of the Antarctic Convergence. The Convention is also an integral part of the Antarctic Treaty System. The Antarctic Treaty System is a complex of arrangements regulating the relations among states in the Antarctic. The core of this system is the Antarctic Treaty.9

The Antarctic Treaty entered into force in 1961 and counts now 53 contracting parties. The core provision is Article 1 according to which the Antarctic shall be used for peaceful purposes only.10 Just like the Arctic, the Antarctic is exposed to environmental threats originating from outside the polar regions. But as opposed to the Arctic, the continent Antarctica is a huge land mass and it is not inhabited – except for scientists. In addition, there are disputes over sovereignty as seven states maintain claims to the continent and France and Australia claim an EEZ off their Antarctic territories.11 However, pursuant to the Antarctic Treaty, all of the national sovereignty claims have been frozen, which has been criticised for setting the dispute aside instead of solving it.12

Basic principles concerning human activities in the Antarctic have been enshrined in the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. It prohibits all activities related to mineral resources except for scientific purposes. The protection of the environment must be considered in the planning and conduct of all activities, except fishing, by means of an environmental impact assessment.13 The discharge of noxious liquid substances, plastic and other waste from ships into the sea is forbidden. This part of the Protocol follows the concept of the MARPOL Convention. In general, the Antarctic Treaty System provides for integrated oceans management, yet particularly the sovereignty disputes pose significant obstacles to a fully integrated Antarctic cooperation.14

Even though the Antarctic Treaty seems to implement a restrictive approach towards human activities, it still makes reference to the freedom of the high seas as pursuant to article 87 of the Law of the Sea Convention. This may lead to a conflict of interest as article 87 grants these freedoms without prior environmental impact assessment.

It will be interesting to see if the planned international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction will provide for more legal security with regard to the protection of the Antarctic marine environment or if a new legal framework will cause even more conflicts.

Given the rapid deterioration of the marine environment worldwide and the effects of climate change and global warming observed in the past years, the protection of the marine environment and its living resources should definitely prevail over the economic interests of states or commercial actors. And even more so with regard to a region that can significantly contribute to the mitigation of the effects of climate change due to its capacity to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide. In the long run, one may need to consider amending the requirement of unanimous decision for CCAMLR related issued to prevent Member States from blocking such important projects.


* Doctor of Law (Aarhus University, Denmark), researcher.

  1. []
  2. []
  3. []
  4. []
  5. []
  6. []
  7. []
  8. []
  9. []
  10. []
  11. Scott, Karen; Vanderzwaag, David Polar Oceans and Law of the Sea, The Oxford Handbook of the Law of the Sea, p. 738. []
  12. Scott, Karen; Vanderzwaag, David Polar Oceans and Law of the Sea, The Oxford Handbook of the Law of the Sea, p. 739. []
  13. []
  14. Scott, Karen; Vanderzwaag, David Polar Oceans and Law of the Sea, The Oxford Handbook of the Law of the Sea, p. 741. []