What is an MPA?
In general terms, a Marine Protected Area (MPA) is a marine area that provides protection for all or part of the natural resources it contains. Within an MPA certain activities are limited, or entirely prohibited, to meet specific conservation, habitat protection, ecosystem monitoring or fisheries management objectives.
MPAs do not necessarily exclude fishing, research or other human activities; in fact, many MPAs are multi-purpose areas. MPAs or MPA regions often have areas in which fishing is prohibited, as well as areas where under specific circumstances and with the objective of promoting research and scientific understanding, fishing may still be permitted if conducted consistenly with the objectives of the MPA. Other uses may also be permitted.
Areas closed to fishing (or in which fishing activities are restricted) can be used by scientists to compare to areas that are open to fishing to research the relative impacts of fishing and other changes, such as those arising from climate change. This can help scientists understand the range of variables affecting the overall status and health of marine ecosystems, including the effects of climate change.
CCAMLR has agreed to develop a representative system of MPAs based on the best available science and has also agreed a framework that describes the objectives and requirements for establishing MPAs which includes the following components:
- specific objectives
- spatial boundaries
- list of activities that are restricted, prohibited, or managed
- management plan, including administrative arrangements
- research and monitoring plan, and research and monitoring arrangements
- period of designation.
CCAMLR Members have developed proposals for MPAs in different regions of the Southern Ocean. These proposals are scrutinised by CCAMLR's Scientific Committee and Commission and once agreed they are described in detail in a CCAMLR conservation measure.
All geographic details of MPAs (positions, areas) may be viewed in the CCAMLR GIS.
The South Orkney Islands southern shelf MPA
In 2009, the UK presented a proposal for an MPA in the region south of the South Orkney Islands based on the outcome of a circumpolar analysis of regions with particular ecological characteristics (referred to as bioregions). The 94 000 km2 area includes overlapping bioregions as well as important areas for penguin foraging. Based on the recommendation of the Scientific Committee, the Commission agreed to create the South Orkney Islands southern shelf MPA in which commercial fishing is prohibited but research activities are permitted under agreement from the Scientific Committee.
The Ross Sea region MPA
An MPA in the Ross Sea was originally proposed by both the USA and New Zealand in 2012. These proposals were later revised as a joint proposal and were considered in the 2013 Bremerhaven special meeting leading up to the CCAMLR annual meetings later that year. There then followed a period of both scientific and diplomatic discussion that led to the agreement by CCAMLR of the Ross Sea region MPA (RSRMPA) in 2016; the MPA then came into force on 1 December 2017.
The RSRMPA aims to protect large-scale ecosystem processes, conserve biodiversity, protect predators and prey (including penguins, seals, whales, krill and Antarctic silverfish), protect areas of ecological importance, protect areas that are important to the life cycle of Antarctic toothfish, and promote research and other scientific activities (such as monitoring) on the marine living resources in the region. The full scope of the MPA is detailed in Conservation Measure 91-05.
The RSRMPA is divided into three zones, each of which allows certain activities and restricts others. Fishing activities are prohibited within much of the MPA with a few exceptions, all of which must be conducted in accordance with other conservation measures set down by CCAMLR.
The RSRMPA remains in force until the end of its review period in 2052, at which time it may be renewed or modified as needed.