The European Union has submitted a request for a marine protected area (MPA) to be established in the Weddell Sea. The scientific basis was provided by researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research (AWI).
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was signed by 14 states on 20 May 1980 and entered into force on 7 April 1982. The 35th meeting of the CCAMLR is currently taking place from October 17th to 28th in Hobart, Tasmania. Its members must agree unanimously about the establishment of the MPA.
The Commission, which comprises 24 Member States and the European Union, is currently developing the scientific basis for a network of MPAs in the Southern Ocean. The Weddell Sea is one of nine planning regions in the CCAMLR contract area of the entire Antarctic Ocean. The proposed MPA, conceptualised by Germany, would cover an area approximately 1.8 million square kilometres. It would be five times the size of Germany, making it the largest MPA in the world.
In the Weddell Sea, some 14,000 species live in different communities. Marine biologists have described the biodiversity of the Southern Ocean to be comparable with the diversity of tropical reefs. Since its discovery in 1823, there has never been a commercial fishery in the Weddell Sea. It is thus one of the last, almost untouched regions of Antarctica, where the natural balance of nature has been preserved.
The extreme conditions in the Weddell Sea means that the animals living there have to conserve their energy at all times. As a result, they have developed unique means of survival. For example, ice fish create antifreeze proteins in their body that prevents their blood from freezing.
The Weddell Sea is also home to large birds. Near its coasts, more than 300,000 pairs of Antarctic petrels mate every summer. On the sea ice, one-third of all emperor penguins are being born. Their parents dive into the Weddell Sea, hunting for krill and Antarctic silverfish to build up their fat reserves. The krill and fish stocks in the Weddell Sea are also consumed by many sea mammals. Scientists have documented six seal species and twelve whale species. The main whale species include the humpback whales, orcas, blue whales and Antarctic minke whales.
During the meeting, Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture Christian Schmidt said, “The Weddell Sea is one of the last, almost untouched regions of Antarctica and this should not be changed. It is our historic duty to protect the unique ecosystem in Antarctica.”
AWI Director Prof Dr Karin Lochte added, “In the Weddell Sea, there are unique biological treasuries and key species that must be preserved. Our investigations have revealed that climate change has had little effect on this region. The Weddell Sea functions as a retreat for cold-breeding species, and the region is a valuable area for scientific research. As a result, we are very interested to ensure that future research activities in this unique and largely untouched area is not jeopardised by destructive human activities.”
More information: www.awi.de und www.bmel.de