Marine Protected Areas

Penguins hunting. Photographer: John WellerOceans throughout the world are facing increasing threats from a multitude of sources. From overfishing and climate change, marine life is suffering from deteriorating marine conditions. The Southern Ocean is one of the last remaining parts of the world's oceans that is still largely unaffected by these problems. ASOC believes that the designation of Southern Ocean Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) will offer the best protection for a fragile ocean environment.

What is a Marine Protected Area (MPA)?

A marine protected area is a region of the ocean in which human activities are more strictly regulated than in the surrounding waters, similar to a national park on land. MPAs are designated and managed through legal means with the goals of achieving long- term conservation of habitat, providing refuges for different species, and even provide safe havens for cultural and historical sites. MPAs protect biodiversity and buffer habitats from the impacts of human activities and allow impacted areas the time to recover.

MPAs are beneficial for marine life and often for humans as well. Surprisingly, research has shown that MPAs can allow fish stocks to recover in population size by providing a safe haven for the fish to safely spawn and grow to adulthood. After reaching adulthood these fish can migrate outside the MPA and into surrounding fisheries. MPAs also provide a place for research and training for scientists who are monitoring the environmental effects of human activities including the direct and indirect effects of climate change.

Types of MPAs

ca68e06c6e1562094552b9f75bfe0d53Penguin and chick. Photographer: John WellerThere are several different types of MPAs with differing amounts of regulations and restrictions. The strictest MPA is a no-take reserve, with complete prohibition. These MPAs have strict no fishing policies and do not allow any take from the designated area. These areas are also called Marine Reserves (MR). There are other MPAs that have more lenient rules on fishing. These MPAs can be harder to regulate and offer more challenges to those legally responsible for the MPA. Some regulations that go along with these types of MPAs are zonal management, temporal control, equipment restriction, quotas and the requirement of licenses or permits for fishing or other activities.

MPAs in the Southern Ocean

The Southern Ocean needs a network of MPAs to ensure the protection and preservation of this unique ecosystem. The Southern Ocean is home to a multitude of species such as seabirds, leopard seals, minke and sperm whales, Adélies and emperor penguins, Antarctic toothfish and Antarctic krill. It is home to numerous endemic species as well as having high species richness. The Southern Ocean faces many threats such as the depletion of Antarctic krill, a keystone species, fishing, ecotourism and other human activities that directly and indirectly threaten to destroy the Antarctic marine systems. Establishing marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean is a huge job and must be done soon before the growing commercial fisheries such as the Antarctic toothfish and Antarctic Krill industries continue to expand.

Who is actually responsible for establishing MPAs in the Southern Ocean?

The Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is in charge of designating and regulating which parts of the Southern Ocean can become part of the network of MPAs. CCAMLR is part of the Antarctic Treaty System and began working towards conserving the ocean surrounding Antarctica in the early 80s. They have set out a series of milestones to accomplish in the next three years in their progress towards creating the network. They have also declared eleven priority areas in the Southern Ocean from which most of the MPAs will be designated. There has been some progress made towards the establishment of the network, with the establishment of the first MPA in the Southern Ocean at one of the 11 priority areas, south of the South Orkney Islands.

However, this process is only the beginning and there is still a lot more work to be done. The Ross Sea, located south of New Zealand, is a priority for the establishment of MPAs. It is home to an abundance of species and is one of the last places almost completely untouched by human influence. If preservyed now, scientists could use the Ross Sea as a reference area to places that have already been affected by global warming, over fishing and other human consequences.

Establishing MPAs in the Southern Ocean is extremely important and we must act fast before our chances of protecting and preserving this natural ecosystem are gone forever.

To read more about CCAMLR click here


Protect Planet Ocean

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s site includes descriptions of existing MPAs, general information about the science of MPAs, and other MPA-related resources

World Wildlife Fund- Australia

WWF-AU site includes descriptions and information about MPAs in the Southern Ocean along with information about what has already happened and what needs to happen.


ASOC is pleased to work with Mission Blue on promoting Southern Ocean MPAs. ASOC is also a member of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance.