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Protecting the Southern Ocean

Situation

The Southern Ocean is owned by no one, but its wildlife and wilderness, as well as its marine resources, are of immense value to the world. In recent years there has been a huge increase in activities like fishing and tourism in the region. Accidents with vessels are becoming more frequent, and the waters are becoming polluted. Illegal long-line fishery for Antarctic toothfish not only has a severe impact on the toothfish population, but also causes the death of tens of thousands of albatrosses and petrels every year. The birds are attracted to the bait, and swallow the hooks or become snagged and are pulled under the sea to drown. In practice, the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which was established in 1994, simply has a symbolic function. Year after year, Japan continues to kill whales in the sanctuary by exploiting a loophole in the agreement. The international Whaling Commission (IWC) has so far failed to develop a proper management plan for the sanctuary. The few treaty tools that have been established for the region have hardly been used to protect its marine areas: to date, less than 0,0255% of the Southern Ocean is actually protected.

About the applicant

The Atlantic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) is an international NGO that was created with the objective of ensuring the permanent protection of Antarctica and its surrounding seas. Together with key partners like WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and many smaller NGOs, the organisation uses tools such as advocacy and education to achieve its goals. ASOC also carries out policy analyses, conducts campaigns around the world and works closely with leading scientists.

About the application (2009)

ASOC has a seat in several international decision making mechanisms, such as the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the International Whaling Commission. The organisation would like to make optimal use of its influence and accomplish its key objectives through these bodies. ASOC has developed a project called the New Southern Ocean Protection Initiatives (NSOPI), an integrated set of campaign activities that take the overlapping governance regimes in the region into account.

Intended results

The NSOPI has five primary goals:
1) Vessels should be much safer, and pollution, which is mainly caused by the use of heavy oil and the discharge of garbage and wastewater, should be prevented through tighter regulations and better enforcement;
2) A system of Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) should be created in the Southern Ocean;
3) The integrity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary should be protected and a viable Management Plan should be developed for it;
4) Albatrosses and petrels should be better protected, and all illegal long-line fishing of toothfish should be stopped. ASOC is working on practical methods to track down pirates so that they can be arrested;
5) Climate change should be integrated into fisheries management and certification decisions. ASOC will press the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to take climate change into account in its two certification processes for toothfish and krill in the Antarctic.

Actual results

The Prince Bernhard Nature Fund has not received a final report on the results yet, but takes a long term view on advocacy and negotiation projects, because they take time. Changing policies or treaties is a difficult process involving many stakeholders from different countries. It is likely that the project will only pay off in the long term. For more information and updates, see http://asoc.org/

Photo: Andrew Jones