How China came in from the cold to help set up Antarctica’s vast new marine park


Nengye Liu, University of New England

Conservationists have been celebrating the creation of the world’s largest marine park, covering 1.55 million square kilometres of the Ross Sea off Antarctica.

The agreement, brokered at last week’s annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart, will enter into force on December 1, 2017 – thanks in large part to China ending its resistance to the proposal.

For the next 35 years, fishing will be totally banned in a “no-take zone” covering 1.12 million square kilometres (72%) of the marine park, with exceptions for krill and toothfish in specially designated research zones.

The marine park’s creation follows years of often frustrating negotiations. The United States and New Zealand brought the idea to the 2012 CCAMLR meeting, but were met with concerns, particularly from Russia and China.

At the 2014 meeting, China set out the reasons for its opposition. Its delegates argued that the term “conservation” should balance protection and rational use of marine living resources; that marine parks should not be set up in the Southern Ocean without convincing data showing they will work; and that the CCAMLR has already adopted a wide range of successful conservation measures in the seas around Antarctica.

A year later, China once again looked set to block the issue, posing a series of questions about the proposed marine park. How could marine parks allow rational use of marine living resources? How could they facilitate scientific research? How would they be monitored and regulated, and how long would the protections last?

Nevertheless, China surprisingly supported the Ross Sea proposal at the end of the 2015 CCAMLR meeting, paving the way for this month’s decision.

Why the turnaround from China’s previous opposition? And what does this mean for its growing and changing influence on Antarctic diplomacy?

Global influence

There are three key reasons that explain China’s shifting position. First, China is a latecomer to the current global ocean governance regime. When the Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959, China was still relatively isolated from the international community. It was not until 1978 that it opened its doors to the world and engaged with the current international legal system, and as such it had little influence on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It has taken time for China to develop the necessary diplomatic and scientific expertise to become comfortable in this space. As a historic rule-taker rather than rule-maker, its government may need to overcome a natural mistrust of many existing regimes.

This issue is not unique to marine parks. Such hesitation was also evident when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and when it started engaging with UN climate change negotiations in 1994. But China now uses the WTO dispute settlement body as frequently as other members, and ratified the Paris climate agreement at September’s G20 summit which it hosted for the first time – another sign of its increasing diplomatic engagement.

Second, China became a party of the CCAMLR in 2007. As the world’s second-largest economy and largest fishing nation, China has global fishing interests, including off Antarctica. Chinese Krill fishing in Antarctica has grown significantly since 2009, reaching 54,300 tonnes in 2014. This partly explains China’s concerns over proposed no-take zones.

There is, however, a deeper philosophical concern, which might be described as “anxiousness for commons”. While China’s Antarctic fishing interests account for only a very small share of its global catch, they are highly symbolic because Antarctic fishing showcases China’s quest for freedom in the “global commons”.

Third, the international community is currently developing a new global ocean governance regime. By coincidence, negotiations on the regulation of fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean and other international areas of the high seas have been going on at the same time as the discussions about the Ross Sea. In the Northeast Atlantic, the OSPAR has already established a network of high sea marine parks.

As a rising power, China would not be happy to face constraints or bans on its activities at a time when its rising status gives it access to places like the high seas, the ocean floor, the poles, and outer space. It would be a shame if China were to remain silent on those issues, and it probably won’t – China’s 13th Five Year Plan (2016-20) clearly says the nation would like to take a more active role in global ocean governance.

In the foreseeable future, we could possibly see China become more comfortable and active within the CCAMLR as well as the Antarctic Treaty System. Although generally being supportive, China would not keep silent. Rather, it would speak up more openly for its Antarctic interests, and have more intensive engagement with the Antarctic Treaty System.

One challenge for China would be how to enhance its capacity and expertise so as to provide high-quality proposals, which could not only pursue its own interests, but as an important global player, also help to make a concrete contribution to achieving sustainability in the Southern Ocean.

The Conversation

Nengye Liu, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of New England

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The story behind Australia’s marine reserves, and how we should change them


Colin Buxton, University of Tasmania and Peter Cochrane, Australian National University

The federal government is considering changes to Australia’s marine reserves to implement a national system. This week The Conversation is looking at the science behind marine reserves and how to protect our oceans.


Australia has the third largest marine jurisdiction in the world, a vast ocean territory that contains important natural and biological resources. The oceans separate us from, and connect us to, the rest of the world.

They supply food, play a significant role in determining our climate, and are fundamental to our national identity. Protecting our oceans is of paramount importance and Australia is signatory to several international agreements and conventions to establish a network of marine reserves aimed at looking after marine resources.

In 2012 the Australian government declared a network of marine reserves to conserve our marine environment. In 2014, we were asked to co-chair a review of the reserves, with the results released this September.

We looked at five marine regions (North, North-West, South-West, Temperate East and the Coral Sea) but not the South-East network which had been established in 2007. Of the 40 reserves administered by the commonwealth government, we recommended changes to 26.

Click on the marine reserve regions in the map below to details of the changes proposed.

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The review was established to address stakeholder concerns about how the reserves were zoned – and what activities were allowed in each zone – as well as ensuring that zoning decisions were informed by the best available science.

One of the strong messages we received was that people were tired of the process – having been asked about the same concerns when the reserves were declared. But the opportunity to raise concerns and suggest solutions was quickly taken up.

We held more than 260 meetings with more than 650 people between February and August 2015, considered 13,124 written submissions, the vast majority from individuals, and received 1,859 responses to an online survey.

What has changed?

The primary goal of the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA) is to create a system of reserves that is comprehensive (includes the full range of ecosystems within and across each bioregion), adequate (ensures ecological viability and the integrity of populations, species and communities) and representative (reasonably reflects the biodiversity of the marine ecosystem). This will ensure our marine ecosystems stay healthy for generations to come.

Zoning allows us to regulate activities within marine reserves without detracting from their conservation value. These zones range from no-take, which doesn’t allow any resource extraction (such as fishing or mining), through to multiple use and special purpose zones, where certain uses are, or may be, allowed, subject to an assessment of their potential impacts.

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We made seven major recommendations:

• Put more conservation features such as seafloor types, canyons, reef, slope and shelf in no-take protection (from 331 to 352 of the 509 primary conservation features recognised in the reserves).

• Increase the area of no-take zones in four regions, but reduce the area of no-take zone to 41% of the Coral Sea. This means the overall proportion of no-take across the 40 reserves drops marginally from 36% to 33% – the same level as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

• An 81% increase in the area zoned as Habitat Protection Zone (HPZ) – an additional 450,000 square kilometres – rising from 24% to 43% of the estate; and add more conservation features in the HPZ – (from 192 to 272 of the 509 conservation features).

• A 27% increase to just over three quarters (76%) of the overall area of the estate receiving a high level of protection under Sanctuary Zone, Marine National Park Zone or Habitat Protection Zone; all these zones prohibit activities such as seabed mining and fishing that damages the seafloor.

• The total area zoned as Multiple Use Zone is halved, from 36% to 18% of the estate.

• Protection for the coral reefs in the Coral Sea is improved (three additional reefs – Holmes, South Flinders and Wreck – zoned as national park, and all 34 reefs zoned as sanctuary, national park, or habitat protection, and notably improving protection of the reefs of the Marion Plateau).

• Our proposed zoning in the Coral Sea to decrease national park zones and increase habitat protection more strongly reflects zoning in the adjacent Great Barrier Reef, effectively increasing the area of GBR green zones.

Clearly these changes do not support claims that the recommendations will “trigger a devastating loss of threatened marine life”. Nor do they represent “huge cutbacks to marine hotspots”, or “expanded mining”.

On the contrary, they represent a significant improvement to biodiversity included in no-take and other highly protected zones, and better conservation of key features such as southern coral reefs of the Coral Sea.

Who will this affect?

Commonwealth waters, starting at 3 nautical miles (about 5.5 km) from the coast, are generally beyond the safe reach of most recreational fishers and the direct influence of coastal communities.

Nonetheless, there were some areas of particular significance to the recreational fishing, charter fishing and dive tourism sectors such as the Perth Canyon and the Coral Sea, which were adversely affected by the reserves’ proclamation in 2012. The review recommendations accommodated almost all of these concerns through local solutions developed in close consultation with users and their representatives.

The guiding principles of the marine reserves include that zones are based on specific activities, and socioeconomic costs should be minimised.

We were particularly mindful of the socioeconomic importance of fisheries, especially to regional communities. Australia has been globally acknowledged for its management of fisheries. For instance, we recognised Marine Stewardship Certification (MSC) of tuna longlining in the Coral Sea and the Northern Prawn Fishery in our consideration of these two valuable fisheries.

We assessed the risk that certain fishing methods such prawn trawling, longlining and midwater trawling posed to marine habitats using the most up-to-date scientific information and understanding. Along with historical catch records, we used these to develop recommendations on zoning in the marine reserves.

For commercial fisheries that operate in Commonwealth waters, we consulted with users and industry peak bodies and found solutions that reduced impacts on these fisheries while improving the protection of conservation features. The outcome is that displacement of commercial fishing, and therefore adjustment cost to taxpayers (if any) is lower.

Due to the importance of energy security, the original reserve network design was constrained by largely avoiding areas of oil and gas prospects and leases. Where marine reserves and prospects co-exist the zoning is generally multiple use.

The review recommended several departures from this constraint. Much of the Bremer reserve in WA, an area where large fish, mammals and seabirds are known to aggregate, is proposed as a no-take national park, despite high petroleum prospects. Similarly, we recommended that mining and exploration activities be excluded from Geographe Bay.

In the North we proposed more protection in several reserves by extending areas under habitat protection and national park where prospects are low. We also recommended a significant extension of national park at the head of the Great Australian Bight, a well-known site where whales gather.

By-and-large the ports and shipping sectors are not affected by marine reserves. Safe passage of ships is guaranteed under the law of the sea. However, we proposed changes to the Dampier marine reserve to include a Special Purpose Zone for an area where there is existing high intensity port and shipping activity.

Finally, Indigenous groups and representatives also participated in the review. We recommended that Indigenous communities should be encouraged to explore future socioeconomic opportunities from activities in reserves in or near traditional sea country. These activities could include Indigenous rangers monitoring and managing marine reserves.

Where to from here?

We believe the review struck a considered, science-based and robust balance of marine user interests, while improving the protection of key conservation features. Its recommendations address almost all of the major areas of contention raised during the review.

There is no loss of area under conservation management (reserve outer boundaries are unchanged), more of the estate is more highly protected, yet the displacement of commercial fisheries has been reduced through careful zone adjustments.

The review provides a strong foundation for future generations to benefit from the conservation, appreciation and sustainable use of the marine reserves – as long as it is effectively managed and adequately resourced.

The Conversation

Colin Buxton, Adjunct Professor, Fisheries Aquaculture and Coasts Centre IMAS, University of Tasmania and Peter Cochrane, Adjunct Fellow Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why isolated Easter Island is the perfect spot for a marine reserve


Callum Roberts, University of York

Ask the average person what they know about Easter Island and those monumental statues with their inscrutable expressions would likely top the list. For many this is the sum total of their knowledge, for the excellent reason that Easter Island is a very small and exceptionally remote spec in the eastern Pacific.

Administered by Chile 3,600km to the east, and some 2,000km from its nearest inhabited neighbour, Pitcairn Island (a UK overseas territory), Easter Island is in fact one of the remotest inhabited places on Earth.

Apart from statues and inaccessibility, the other notable thing about Easter Island is the ecological disaster that led society there to collapse into warfare and starvation several centuries ago. We still don’t know exactly what happened, but the classic and still convincing story says that Easter Islanders chopped down all their trees to erect statues. The result was soil erosion, loss of fertility and the collapse of food production. And with no trees to make boats, fish were hard to catch on the rugged wave-tossed, cliff-lined coasts and the people became cut off from the rest of the Pacific.

For a place surrounded by trackless seas, Easter Island’s stories have remained resolutely land-bound. But that may soon change. Plans are afoot to turn a vast area of neighbouring ocean into a marine protected area. An announcement from Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, is expected on October 5.

Conservationists who have spent years campaigning for protection, like the Pew Environment Group’s Global Ocean Legacy program, hope the protected area will be very large, and enforced by Chile’s navy. If current plans are realised, Easter Island will become one of the biggest marine protected areas in the world with industrial fishing by non-islanders banned for 200 miles in all directions.

Locals still haul their lines in by hand which limits their catch. Their fishing association supports the marine park as it will give them some protection from illegal competition – islanders will still be able to fish up to 50 miles offshore.

The proposed marine park covers an area larger than Japan or Germany.
Pew Charitable Trusts, CC BY-SA

But what is special about these seas? It is that isolation again. The island’s remote setting has so far spared its seas from the worst depredations of the world’s distant water fishing fleets. In places that are easier to reach, populations of big fish such as tuna, swordfish and sharks have been driven down by intensive industrial long-lining and purse-seine nets. Long-lines may be tens of kilometres long and can carry tens of thousands of hooks, while purse seine nets are used to surround whole schools of fish and anything else that happens to be with them, such as turtles and dolphins. Such fishing has led to losses of 90% or more in vulnerable species like oceanic whitetip sharks or leatherback turtles.

Isolation also means that Easter Island, although not as rich in species as places further west in the Pacific, has a bevy of sea creatures found nowhere else in the world including colourful dwarf angelfish, hermit crabs, tiny starfish and a slipper lobster. It’s a tightly connected web – some of these endemic species feed mainly on other endemic species. If they disappear from here, they disappear everywhere, so safeguarding them is a priority.

Easter Island butterfly fish are one of at least 140 species endemic to the regions waters.
Eduardo Sorenson, The Pew Charitable Trusts, CC BY-SA

If Easter Island’s waters receive the protection they deserve, this place will join a growing number of very large marine protected areas being set up today. There is a long overdue wave of conservation action going on in the sea that has parallels with pioneering efforts to create the national parks of North America and Africa in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The UK established 640,000km2 of protection around its Indian Ocean Territory of the Chagos in 2010, and has promised an even larger area around Easter Island’s “neighbour”, Pitcairn. New Zealand has just announced a 620,000km2 protected area around the Kermadec Islands, halfway between Auckland and Tonga. Back in Britain the Conservative government has pledged to create a “Blue Belt” of protection around all 14 of its overseas territories during this government.

Even with these welcome developments, we may still fall short of the 10% coverage of marine protected areas that the world agreed to establish by 2020 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Nonetheless, at long last, we seem to be heading in the right direction. There is good news at last for embattled ocean life.

The Conversation

Callum Roberts, Professor, School of Environment, University of York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.