Ocean Insights

CCAMLR: How can we protect Antarctica?

What is CCAMLR?

Each year, leaders from around the globe convene to discuss the protection and sustainable use of the Southern Ocean’s ecosystems at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources or CCAMLR. As Antarctica is not a country of its own, the continent relies on global diplomacy to maintain its pristine landscape. Regulations that currently exist in the region showcase a remarkable display of multinational collaboration under the Antarctic Treaty System.

Following decades of exploitation, the Antarctic Treaty System declared the land as a scientific preserve in 1959– dedicating it to research and peace. Operating as a tool to uphold the Treaty’s standard, CCAMLR was introduced in 1980, and works to assess the efficacy of current protections and provide an annual platform for proposing changes. But the mechanisms that make it difficult to degrade the land also make it challenging to implement new protections, as every regulation uses consensus decision-making– needing unanimous consent from all member countries to pass. As of 2023, 27 member countries cast their official votes during CCAMLR, and 10 other countries have accepted the convention but do not participate in voting.

History of CCAMLR

CCAMLR and the Antarctic Treaty System directly respond to the long history of exploitation that Antarctica and the Southern Ocean faced at the hands of our global community.

In 1790, harvesting in the region began with the extraction of fur seals that were hunted for their pelts. Unregulated harvesting continued throughout the century and into the next, and by 1825, their populations neared extinction. Around that time, hunters started seeking elephant seals and penguins for their oils. The practice continued into the following years, and beginning in 1904, industries also began targeting all seven species of whales that frequent the region for food, tools, and building materials.

In 1959, 12 leaders from around the world agreed to ensure a future for this invaluable ecosystem by drawing up the Antarctic Treaty System. With this action, the area falling below 60° South Latitude was designated for peace and scientific discovery. The treaty recognized Antarctica as a valuable ecosystem that must be managed between nations. However, its adoption did not inherently restrict activity, so harvesting continued in the Southern Ocean’s frigid waters.

Commercial interest in krill was on the rise in the 1970s. Oftentimes, fisheries use krill as bait or feed for aquaculture. But krill’s recognition as a keystone species for the Antarctic ecosystem was evolving simultaneously. As we now know, krill supports the entire Antarctic food web, with various species feasting on the crustacean directly and more preying on krill-reliant species. In response, at the 1977 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, it was proposed that the Antarctic Treaty Parties conduct a scientific assessment of the region’s living resources and then develop conservation measures based on those findings. After concluding that unregulated krill fishing could upheave Antarctic ecosystem stability, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) materialized in May of 1980 and entered into force in April 1982.

Since its inception, CCAMLR has helped usher in a brighter future for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean with the implementation of marine protected areas (MPAs), but there is still work to be done. Marine Protected Areas restrict the activity in a designated zone that limits human interference and allows the ecosystem to recover. In Antarctica, regulating fishing would help ensure krill availability, and thus, the protected areas could help maintain ecosystem balance in the region and beyond. Two MPAs, including the world’s largest, the Ross Sea Region MPA, help to safeguard the Southern Ocean but only take up around 5% of the area’s waters. CCAMLR committed to designating more of this invaluable ecosystem to safety through a marine protected area network, proposed in 2002. However, their agreed-upon 2012 deadline has since passed without the new designation coming to fruition.


SeaLegacy and CCAMLR Today

Today, CCAMLR meets and continues to work toward expanding protections to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean. As our planet experiences the effects of climate change, safeguarding the creatures, the ecosystem balance, and the environmental processes that occur in this region becomes more critical than ever before. Currently, three new marine protected areas are proposed in the Southern Ocean: the East Antarctic MPA, the Peninsula MPA, and the Weddell Sea MPA.

The 42nd Annual Session of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR-42) took place in Hobart, Tasmania, from October 16-27, 2023.

Our team shines a light on CCAMLR annually to advocate for expanded protections. By creating videos like “Life Emerging,” our team connects the public to this remote, but invaluable region. We deploy our unique strategy where science, storytelling, and conservation converge to amplify the realities facing the Southern Ocean, and the importance of the region’s stability to our entire global community. As the heart of our planet, Antarctica connects our ocean through its supply and circulation of vital nutrients, oxygen, cold water, and air. The krill that support our ocean’s food web and the migratory species that keep our planet flourishing rely on the region’s success and, thus, they and our planet congruently depend on the decisions made at the yearly CCAMLR meetings. For its invaluable contributions, we and our partners encourage the unanimous vote required for new protection implementation and strive for a secure, biodiverse future for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

Explore our expedition to Antarctica here!

Thank you to our partners:

Antarctic Southern Ocean Coalition, Blue Leaders, Blue Marine Foundation, Blue Nature Alliance, Conservation International, Dona Bertarelli, Fridays for Future, Greenpeace, IFAW Global, Jóvenes Por El Clima Argentina, Latinas for Climate, Max Bello, Mission Blue, Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy, Pew Environment, Por el Mar, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.