25 April 2014, 18:00

Progress made Towards Antarctic Marine Park Treaty

Progress made Towards Antarctic Marine Park Treaty
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The oceans surrounding the Antarctic are one of the world’s last great relatively unpolluted and unspoilt sea areas. That can change rapidly — as we have seen in other seas around the world — with the development of intensive fishing and other commercial exploitation. In more details about it Voice of Russia's Eco Plus program.

The establishment of a vast Antarctic Marine Park is now on the cards, with the more and more countries agreeing to the spirit and letter of an international agreement to protect the area. To a greater degree than he admits, Stephen Campbell, the Campaign Director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance is largely responsible for this new positive attitude towards the Antarctic Seas. Stephen joins Voice of Russia's Eco Plus host John Harrison in the studio in Moscow to talk about the campaign, remaining difficulties and when he thinks the park will be established.

John Harrison: Please, give us an update on what the Antarctic Alliance has been doing over the past year.

Stephen Campbell: The alliance is an increasing number of NGOs from around the world. We have many of the big names, like the WWF and IFL, and Greenpeace, and others involved in the alliance. We have many groups at a national level working in China, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, the UK and we’ve recently had a couple of members in Norway actually join us. So, it is a very big coalition of groups.

And what our common course is? It is to establish this network of marine protected areas in the southern ocean around Antarctica. We’ve been working on it for a number of years. And we work inside an international law-making body called CCAMLR, which is the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. And they basically make the decisions about protected areas or fishing quotas and various other things in the southern ocean.

CCAMLR has been moving forward for around a decade to make a decision of establishing this network. It comes from the CBD – the Convention of Biological Diversity – which in 2002 made a decision to do this. And so, CCAMLR has been sort of methodically towards that.

I think the good big question is – how soon will they make this decision and how big will these areas be, and what kind of level of protection will it be for the ecosystems and the marine life in the southern ocean, which is a very beautiful area and it has a lot of diversity. People think of it as a big icy place, but it is full of penguins and seals, and many different kinds of fish, and sea birds, and all sorts of stuff. So, basically, we are trying to keep this wilderness.

John Harrison: You have had some important meetings lately?

Stephen Campbell: CCAMLR didn’t come to a conclusion in 2012 and decided that they would have to have a special meeting in Bremerhaven, in Germany in the middle of 2013. So, in June we all went to Germany and it was meant to be five days specially devoted to this decision, and to getting everybody on board to make this decision. And that didn’t come to pass for various reasons.

Obviously, it is highly political, it is quite challenged and there are always surprises. Some countries, I think, were still reluctant. And we are talking about some of the countries who fish or some of the countries who have some concerns about the whole concept of marine protection, I suppose. And we also had some fairly robust push back from Russia and Ukraine, and Norway.

John Harrison: What are the real problems with getting this treaty signed?

Stephen Campbell: The problems, I think, first of all, there are conceptual problems. And I think that’s a problem for a lot of countries. So, countries like China and Korea don’t have a tradition of establishing national parks and marine parks, and this whole concept of protecting areas, and putting them into either no-go zones, or limited use zones.

John Harrison: It is a difficult concept to entertain if you live on a large land mass and large continent, like China.

Stephen Campbell: Definitely! But they’ve also not spent the last hundred years thinking about the protection of the environment for future generations, like they might have done in the UK and the US, or Australia. They’ve been thinking about survival, which is a totally different concept, obviously, and totally different national focus. So, that’s the first thing.

I think the second thing is that a lot of countries have economic interests in the area and they are concerned about making a decision which binds their economic interests a long time into the future. And what we’ve been trying to do and what many countries have been trying to do, is to reassure countries who want to fish there and want to have fishing interests in the future, that these protected areas won’t prevent a fishery from occurring in the southern ocean, which is simply wide.

There will still be areas open for fishing and the areas that do get protected will still be open for research, they will still be open for passage, they will still be open for tourism, they will still be open so that the countries can get their ships into their bases and all of that sort of stuff. So, they don’t stop traffic.

John Harrison: And the Antarctic is off the limits for exploration of minerals.

Stephen Campbell: Yes! That was the decision made in the 80’es. So, the Antarctica is a common reserve for peace and science, and it has been set down in the international level.

John Harrison: So, I understand the situation over China. You mentioned Korea as well. What is the situation with the Koreans?

Stephen Campbell: Korea is now quite comfortable, actually. Korea has come out quite strongly in support. Japan has come out in support. China is still not sure and they are reserving their opinion. Russia is still not sure and they are reserving their opinion.

But what I strongly sense from the last meeting in Hobart in October is that we are actually having a negotiation now. And Russia and China are talking. They are talking about the nuts and bolts with the proponent countries, who are the EU, Australia, New Zealand and the US.

So, there is a dialog, there is a conversation going on. And we know, it is about the nuts and bolts of the content of these proposals. So, you know, still there are many things to be resolved.

One is – how long that will be established for? Will that be permanent? Will that be for 30 years? Russia has got protected areas nationally and Russia does permanent protected areas. We know that, so we would say – if that’s what we do in Russia, or that’s what we do in the US (and they do. The Yellowstone is protected permanently), why don’t we do that with the protected areas in Antarctica.

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