Marine Protected Areas

Securing vital protection for the Southern Ocean has never been more urgent. Join us as we work to support flourishing Antarctic ecosystems into the future.

Adelie penguins on ice floe
Adelie penguins on ice floe.

What is an MPA?


Like national parks on land, marine protected areas (MPAs) are designated areas of the ocean where some activities, such as fishing, are limited. Marine protected areas are generally established in areas recognized as biodiversity hotspots, or regions vulnerable to changing conditions or increased human pressures. 

By creating large zones where certain activities are restricted or prevented, MPAs can reduce stress on the ocean and its ecosystems, helping them build resilience to climate change. 

Southern Right Whale
Southern Right Whale

How do MPAs work?


Marine protected areas support resilient oceans by reducing human impacts, allowing vulnerable ecosystems to adapt to their changing environment.

Preserve biodiversity by protecting the full range of habitats and species in an ecosystem.

Provide refuges for vulnerable species whose habitat may be changing dramatically due to the climate crisis. 

Protect migratory pathways, allowing species to adapt, evolve or change their range as habitats shift. 

Create natural laboratories where researchers can study the effects of a warming, more acidic ocean on ecosystems, independent of impacts from fisheries and other human activities.

South polar Skua
South polar Skua

What’s happening?


The Southern Ocean covers around 10% of the global ocean, and is home to nearly 10,000 unique polar species

Currently, only 5% of the Southern Ocean is fully protected.

The Southern Ocean is changing rapidly. Some areas are becoming warmer and more acidic due to changes in the atmosphere caused by human industry. In addition to the changing climate, increasing human activity in the Southern Ocean is impacting ecosystems directly. 

Antarctic krill fisheries are focusing their activities in small areas of high biodiversity, particularly around the popular Antarctic Peninsula. Many of these take krill from important seabird foraging areas near penguin colonies, despite the fact that krill are a vital food source for penguins, and many of these colonies are known to be in decline.   

Essential Antarctic marine habitats, including sea ice and the sheltered seafloor under ice shelves, are also changing rapidly. The effects of these changes are already clear on the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the most rapidly warming regions on the planet.


Protecting the Southern Ocean

Antarctic scientists have identified three key regions of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica in urgent need of protection.

Whale and mother
East Antarctic MPA

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Peninsula MPA

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Weddell seal pup
Weddell Sea MPA

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Rally for Antarctica, May 2022. Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. Photo: Saskia Uppenkamp.
Rally for Antarctica, May 2022. Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. Photo: Saskia Uppenkamp.

Now is the time

Marine Protected Areas

The evidence is clear. Marine protected areas are scientifically proven to be the most effective way to limit the damaging impacts of human activities and support a vibrant, healthy ocean. 

ASOC strongly believes that CCAMLR, the international body charged with designating MPAs, has failed to act decisively for too long. 


The challenge ahead

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence to support the establishment of new Antarctic marine protected areas, progress has been slow.

humpback tail

Who can declare an Antarctic MPA?

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is responsible for designating and regulating MPAs in the Southern Ocean. Its Members include 25 states and the European Union, which meet annually in Hobart, Australia.

CCAMLR is charged with taking a precautionary approach to the conservation of the Southern Ocean. They are responsible for developing scientific advice, reviewing compliance with its regulations, and making conservation decisions relating to the Southern Ocean. 

MPA proposals are put forward by Member countries, informed by the best available science and developed by its Scientific Committee. 

Once there is consensus that the proposal is based on the best available science, it is presented to the Commission where all members must unanimously agree to establish the MPA.

Learn more about CCAMLR.

CCAMLR’s commitment

CCAMLR has been working towards creating a representative system of MPAs around Antarctica since 2002. In 2009, all Members made a formal agreement to realize this network by 2012.

Despite the efforts of many Members, CCAMLR’s own deadline has long since passed.

To date only two marine protected areas, covering 5% of the Southern Ocean, have been established. The South Orkney Islands Southern Shelf MPA, proposed by the United Kingdom in 2009, was the first international MPA to be established on the high seas. The Ross Sea Region MPA, initially proposed by the United States and New Zealand in 2012, came into force on 1 December, 2017, and is the world’s largest marine protected area.

Icerberg Arch

Where are we now?

Since 2016, CCAMLR Members have been unable to reach consensus on any new marine protected areas.

A minority of Member countries are undermining CCAMLR’s ability to do this important conservation work, raising questions about the organization’s effectiveness. 

However, the majority of Member countries have expressed their strong support for the future designation of MPAs, and a commitment to continuing to work for these protections.

Three proposed MPAs have been presented to the CCAMLR membership since 2016, and will continue to be revisited and reviewed at annual CCAMLR meetings.

They are the Antarctic Peninsula MPA, Weddell Sea MPA, and East Antarctic MPA.

emperor penguin

What needs to happen?

ASOC continues to advocate strongly for a representative network of MPAs in the Southern Ocean, starting with existing proposals in East Antarctica, the Weddell Sea, and the Antarctic Peninsula.

‘Representative’ means that significant portions of all habitats, ecosystems, and species are included, representing an entire, functional ecosystem. 

This network should eventually cover at least 30% of the ocean, and be implemented with significant no-take areas and no limits to their duration. 


What ASOC is doing

Together with our partners and supporters, we continue to call on CCAMLR to fulfill their commitment and establish a network of representative marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean.
We represent the Antarctic conservation community at the highest levels of Antarctic governance, working within the system to advocate for marine protection in the following ways.

weddell seal underwater

ASOC strongly supports the establishment of a representative network of marine protected areas across the Southern Ocean.

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As the only official environmental NGO observer to Antarctic governance meetings, ASOC advocates for science-based policies within the existing Antarctic governance framework.

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NASA Ice core

ASOC acknowledges and supports the world-class climate research conducted by Antarctic researchers.

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“The global coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that we need to change our behavior and work to protect nature instead of exploiting it. ASOC calls on CCAMLR to demonstrate leadership and fulfill their commitment to meaningful protection of the Southern Ocean.”

Claire Christian
Executive Director, Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition

What you can do


Now is the time to call on CCAMLR to make good on its commitment. Join us as we help secure a resilient future for Antarctica and the global ocean today. 

Rally for Antarctica, May 2022. Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. Photo: Saskia Uppenkamp.
Rally for Antarctica, May 2022. Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. Photo: Saskia Uppenkamp.
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