Designate East Antarctica and Weddell Sea as Marine Protected Areas: India

Glaciers are pictured in Antarctica's Chiriguano Bay in November 2019

At a high-level ministerial meeting, India has extended support for protecting the Antarctic environment and for co-sponsoring the proposal of the European Union for designating East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Science & Technology and also Minister of State for Earth Sciences Jitendra Singh affirmed it while addressing the Ministers of different countries of the European Union during a meeting held virtually.

Singh said, “India supports sustainability in protecting the Antarctic environment.”

The two proposed MPAs are essential to regulate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. He urged the member countries of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to ensure that India remains associated with the formulation, adaptation and implementation mechanisms of these MPAs in future.

Singh said the proposal to designate East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea as MPAs was first put forth to the CCAMLR in 2020 but could not reach a consensus at that time. He said since then substantial progress has been made with Australia, Norway, Uruguay and the United Kingdom agreeing to co-sponsor the proposal. The Minister added that by the end of October 2021, India would join these countries in co-sponsoring the MPA proposals.

He informed the EU delegates that India had embarked on an Antarctic expedition in 1981, through the Southern Indian Ocean sector and since then, there has been no turning back. Till date, India had completed 40 expeditions with plans for the 41st expedition in 2021-22.

“This is the first time India is considering co-sponsoring an MPA proposal at the CCAMLR and getting aligned with countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Korea, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA, which are also proactively considering supporting the MPA proposals,” a release from the Ministry of Earth Sciences said on Thursday.

The Minister said India’s decision to consider extending support and co-sponsoring the MPA proposals is driven by conservation and sustainable utilization principles and adhering to the global cooperation frameworks (such as Sustainable Development Goals, UN Decade of Oceans, Convention on Biodiversity, etc.) to which India is a signatory.

The ministerial meeting was hosted virtually by Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, EU, Virginijus Sinkevieius. It was attended by Ministers, Ambassadors and Country Commissioners from 18 countries. The meeting aimed to increase the number of co-sponsors of the MPA proposals and reflect on a joint strategy and future actions for their swift adoption by CCAMLR.

The CCAMLR is an international treaty to manage Antarctic fisheries to preserve species diversity and stability of the entire Antarctic marine ecosystem. It came into force in April 1982. India has been a permanent member of the CCAMLR since 1986. Work pertaining to the CCAMLR is coordinated in India by the Ministry of Earth Sciences through its attached office, the Centre for Marine Living Resources and Ecology (CMLRE) in Kochi, Kerala.

An MPA is a marine protected area that provides protection for all or part of its natural resources. Certain activities within a MPA are limited or prohibited to meet specific conservation, habitat protection, ecosystem monitoring, or fisheries management objectives. Since 2009, CCAMLR members have developed proposals for MPAs for various regions of the Southern Ocean. CCAMLR’s scientific committee examines these proposals. After CCAMLR members agree upon them, elaborate conservation measures are set out, the release added.

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