Antarctica is increasingly worrying experts around the world. In September it was announced that the extent of sea ice around the continent had reached a new low: just under 17 million square kilometers, significantly less than in previous years in the Antarctic winter. Since Monday, the governments responsible for protecting Antarctic marine fauna and flora in Hobart, Australia, have once again been struggling to find concrete solutions for protecting the Southern Ocean. They have two weeks to do this at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

“This year, the Southern Ocean experienced record low sea ice levels and previously unimaginably high temperatures, as well as the deaths of an estimated 9,000 emperor penguin chicks due to sea ice loss,” said expert Andrea Kavanagh of the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project. The rate of change in Antarctica is alarming, “but what is even more alarming is that CCAMLR has taken no action to combat climate change in the last decade.”

One of the main issues is once again the designation of three major Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in East Antarctica, the Weddell Sea and the waters of the Antarctic Peninsula. Because of resistance from Russia and China, a breakthrough has always failed – most recently in June at a special CCAMLR meeting on the topic in Santiago de Chile. All CCAMLR decisions must be made unanimously by the 27 member states, including Germany.

Antarctic Commission under increasing pressure

“MPAs will not stop climate change, but they will help make the ecosystem more resilient,” Kavanagh emphasized. It is high time for the CCAMLR to get out of its “dead end”. The Antarctic Commission is coming under increasing pressure because it has had little success for years. The last significant measure was taken in 2016 with the agreement of the Ross Sea Protected Area, a marginal sea in the Southern Ocean. Since then, the climate and biodiversity crisis has worsened, warned the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC).

Stricter requirements for krill fishing are also on the agenda. The tiny crustaceans are caught en masse to make oil and fish feed – but they are extremely important for the fragile Antarctic ecosystem with animals such as whales and penguins. “In connection with the climate crisis, krill fishing is causing the entire Antarctic ecosystem to falter and with it the climate stability of our planet,” emphasized Sascha Müller-Kraenner, Federal Managing Director of German Environmental Aid (DUH).