From CCAMLR forward…

The 2012 CCAMLR meeting has been and gone and while the inability to reach consensus on marine protection in the Ross Sea was disheartening in one respect, in another it was a relief. The proposal that New Zealand took to Hobart, although being a good first step, never had the conservation value the Ross Sea really deserves. As the most pristine marine ecosystem on Earth we need a proposal that protects the intact qualities of the ecosystem, and what was put forward falls well short.

I’ve been to CCAMLR several times and when you see the international politics playing out, you understand why strong alliances are vital. The NZ/US alliance promised to be a powerful one, but we blew it. Through a set of baffling decisions, instead of sitting beside our great ally – we sat opposite, battling them on behalf of the NZ fishing industry and some cash strapped cabinet ministers.

The extent of support shown to the industry was evident in an area of contention in the south of the Ross Sea referred to as the wedge (See diagram). When the US tried to protect this area in order to have a reference to monitor the effects of fishing, NZ dug in its heels on the grounds that closing the area would concentrate fishing effort and reduce the options the fishing industry had during years with a lot of ice. We wasted a valuable week that would have been far better spent collectively lobbying the traditional opponents to marine protection – Russia, China, Korea, Japan.

The proposal that eventually found its way to CCAMLR’s table effectively protected our fishing interests as much as it protected the ecosystem. The richest and most productive areas of the Ross Sea remained open for business. Carolyn Schwalger, head of the New Zealand delegation, told us the proposal was based on science. What she didn’t say was that it was based on science that backs their view. Wherever you stand in the spectrum of this debate, you will find science to justify your position.

Science also tells us that removing 50% of a top predator from an almost pristine marine ecosystem will destroy the natural balance of that ecosystem. Science tells us that 80% of the worlds oceans have been over exploited, 90% of the large fish have gone. You would have to be a fool to ignore the viewpoint of the 500 plus scientists (including world leading, fishery, marine and Antarctic experts) who say that the Ross Sea ecosystem needs to be protected. New Zealand’s science is primarily focused on justifying a ‘sustainable’ fishery but conserving the Ross Sea requires a much broader ecological framework than that.

Weddell Seal and Pup under the Ross Sea Ice. Photo John Weller

The decision to fish or not fish the Ross Sea is a decision based on a lot more than science: it also involves economics, politics and values – and the latter needs to play a bigger part in this process. It is time for CCAMLR to take guidance from the values under which it was originally formed – to conserve Antarctica’s Marine Living Resources. It is time for the New Zealand Government to take responsibility for its role in opening up this fishery and to take guidance from the values of the clean green public it represents. New Zealand can help provide CCAMLR with the leadership required to steer this organization towards doing what is morally right in the Ross Sea.

At a recent public debate on the Last Ocean at Christchurch’s Antarctic Festival IceFest, Dr Denzil Miller, executive secretary of CCAMLR from 2002 – 2012, told us that bold moves make an impact in the CCAMLR environment. NZ could boldly forfeit the annual $20 -30 million and withdraw our fishing fleet from the Ross Sea. The reason to do this is simple: if we lose life in our oceans we lose life itself and the Ross Sea is our last healthy wild ocean. So we either make bold moves or we continue with the race for the Ross Sea resources, a similar race that has lead to the demise of much of our planet already. Antarctica is the exception – to date it has avoided this tragedy of the commons through its pioneering Treaty, and it’s with great shame that New Zealand is selling out Antarctica’s oceans so easily.

The long-term values for protecting the entire Ross Sea are profound. Creating a “Serengeti of the South” would set aside one of the last bastions of the natural world for future generations – a place to celebrate and share, whether it be through science, research, education or tourism. Those who know the juncture at which we sit, realize that this is our one big chance to properly protect the Ross Sea, and this is our opportunity to show the world that New Zealanders are who we actually say we are.

Peter Young delivers his documentary ‘The Last Ocean’ to CCAMLR 2012. Six years in the making but the journey is far from over.

The fact that CCAMLR couldn’t reach consensus in this latest meeting doesn’t mean the organization is not committed to marine protection. A number of countries participating expressed strong disappointment at the failure to make progress and for only the second time in its history, CCAMLR has agreed to hold a special intercessional meeting in Germany in July 2013 to try to find resolution. This self-imposed deadline puts pressure on the organization to come up with a result. It also gives us six months to build on the campaign and to continue to lobby New Zealand and US Governments to come up with stronger proposals for protection of the Ross Sea.

One thing is for certain, there are now a lot more people who know what CCAMLR stands for and where the Ross Sea is. We need to monitor what is going on in the Ross Sea fishery and we need to keep talking about it. Write to your papers, lobby your politicians – and let CCAMLR know that in July 2013 all eyes will be turning to Germany. The world will be watching.


10 thoughts on “From CCAMLR forward…

  1. Peter, I read all this again on Boxing Day, and it brings tears to my eyes to fathom all the wrongs that are going on. I guess both young ones and old see the wrongs New Zealand is committing in the oceans as well as the Ross sea. It is sad that it is only in potected areas such as Yellowstone National Park, that we see nature how it should be. Many countries care for their wilderness areas better than New Zealand, because they have learnt from their wrongs.
    The passionate work you are doing can become better focused by using the media. That is our strongest “tool.” The toothfish is the cause of why a marine protected area has not been agreed on so far. Sandfords claim a property right and would go if compensated…
    I may be wrong, but I understand Peter Goodfellow is Sandfords, and Peter id high up in the National party in New Zealand the govenment that is now in power…
    So the dollars Sandfords can bring into New Zealand is good for New Zealand, but to who ?
    New Zealanders are what its all about as well as our neighbours and actually the rest of the world.
    John Key is the “KEY” here, and I think he needs to be brought into the debate more.
    Public pressure is the “key” and in the long run, CCAMLR will have been all worth while.

    • Hi Alain, you read the situation well. John Key is the “Key” as is the public pressure that we put on tis Governemtn. John Key is going down to the Ross Sea mid January. I have sent him a DVD and I hope that he finds the time to view it over his Christmas break. Like anything, it takes time, but the first step of rectifying what is going on in the Ross Sea could be done quite easily – withdraw our own fishing fleet. If Sanfords did it themselves, it could be the good news story so desperately need. It is also NZ’s opportuntiy to put us back on the world stage as leaders in forward thinking and conservation. If only. 🙂

      • Thanks Peter you reflect what our song sheet is I believe it is very significant that John Key is actually going down there to the Ross sea mid January. To see the real thing, A video will not put real passion in his veins of what this is all about. Yes it may be a few million dollars if he choses to compendsate Sandfords, but then Sandfords has something also to gain by conceding. New Zealand can have a huge message to the world if this MPA actually eventuates. I consider that if John Key goes down there and does nothing at all, …I cant see that. I think that as he is going down there, we just may have a lifetime dream coming true for us. Sandfords want compensation, but the world needs some compensation too.

  2. Hi Peter, I think that you did a good job in describiing what happened in CCAMLR and the current situation and thinking. Thanks for staying focused on pushing for the creation of a large marine protected area in the Ross Sea… Now, we have to focus on the July meeting…and find ways to get a final proposal agreed by all CCAMLR members… As I have done in the past, I will do my utmost to help in the process… Big hug my friend and it was great seeing you in Hobart some weeks ago 🙂 Cheers, Rodolfo

  3. I know how disappointed you are Peter but I wanted to thank you for all you have done. Through The Last Ocean you have raised so much awareness and support for the Ross Sea. You have educated so many everyday people on what is going on down there and you have made people feel passionate about it. It is not over yet but in the meantime thank you for all you have done.

  4. Peter, thank you for the candor and perspective you brought to the situation right after CCAMLR. You acknowledged the disappointment and then saw the opportunity to mobilize anew and to apply the lessons learned to be ready for a great result in Germany. Question for you, who do you think would be the best people in the U.S. for us “regular folk” to talk to about the Germany 2013 conference? Are there any grassroots steps you can think of that would or have been effective?

    • Hi Connie, thanks for the feedback, I’m just checking out the answer from my colleagues in the US and will get back to you soon. thanks, Peter

  5. I share the feeling of disappointment that adequate protection of the Ross Sea was not achieved at the recent CCAMLR meeting. However, adoption of inadequate protection of the Ross Sea might have given the false impression of having done “a great good” while still ultimately failing to save this last pristine ocean ecosystem. A limited win is still a loss in this struggle. It is deeply lamentable that humanity has such a repetitive shortsightedness that chooses short-term limited gains at the expense of long-term irreplaceable losses. I fear this could prove to be the “fatal flaw” for humanity as a whole. That said, the only option aside from giving up is to keep fighting to save the biosphere from our shortsighted selves……no better place to focus that effort than saving the Ross Sea. Germany……July 2013…….see you there……

    • Well said Jim. Its giving up so easily that gets me. The Ross Sea has revealed NZ’s true colours and they are certainly not green!

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