Why is it so hard to protect Antarctica?

By Midge Raymond,

  Filed under: Antarctica, Environment, Oceans, Penguins

Currently the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) — established as part of the Antarctic Treaty System and responsible for designating marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean — is struggling, yet again, to create new MPAs in the Antarctic region.

As this article notes, for the sixth year in a row, CCAMLR members couldn’t agree on new MPAs, because two member nations, China and Russia, declined their support.

During a time of unprecedented climate change and mass extinctions across the globe, why is it so hard to agree to protect one of the most fragile (and rapidly warming) areas on Earth?

Scientific American offers a few reasons, from using “‘spurious science’ and other bad-faith arguments” to withhold support, as well as economic interests such as commercial fishing.

As is usual these days, politics seems to be getting in the way of everything, especially progress, and especially when it comes to human and animal rights.

The good news is that every individual has a way to help protect Antarctica. If we stop eating seafood (or even if we simply cut back), we can take away the economic incentive to increase fisheries in these areas where the marine animals need this food far more than we humans do. (We can also eliminate illegal poaching, which happens all the time in areas that do manage to get protection.)

Less commercial fishing also means less pollution, which is a major factor threatening marine species in the Antarctic, especially penguins.

There are bigger issues at stake, of course — the Antarctic Treaty’s environmental protocol is up for review in 2048 — and protecting the continent will ultimately require “concerted, high-level diplomatic activity.”

But for now, we can all do our own small part. Being vegan helps the oceans (and the entire planet) immensely. Traveling in eco-friendly ways helps all animals, all around the world — if we travel at all. And the tiny things we do daily (from walking instead of driving to air-drying our clothes) add up … if we all feel inspired to do them.

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