The Ministry of Earth Science on September 30, 2021, announced that India has decided to extend support to protect the Antarctica environment. In a high-level ministerial meeting conducted last leaving, it was decided that India will also be co-sponsoring to designate East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea as Marine Protected Areas.
Antarctica has been witnessing the rapid melting of ice sheets in recent times. It has the largest mass of ice in the world, holding around 60% of the world’s freshwater. If it all melted, global average sea levels would rise by 58 meters. Further, studies suggest that the 2021 ozone hole over the South Pole is already larger than Antarctica.
This is the first time India has agreed to co-sponsor the proposal and join the league by the end of October 2021. Other co-sponsor countries include New Zealand, US, for the protection of the area around Antarctica.
India too has been making sustainable efforts to contribute to undoing the impacts of climate change. Its decision to extend support and co-sponsor the MPA proposals is driven by its conservation and sustainable utilization principles and adhering to the global cooperation frameworks (such as Sustainable Development Goals, UN Decade of Oceans, Convention on Biodiversity, etc.) to which India is a signatory.
Decision to co-sponsor
The European Union had proposed to designate East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea as Marine Protected Areas (MPA). The motive behind the EU’s proposal was to answer the threat posed due to climate change and biodiversity loss.
The high-level ministerial meeting was hosted virtually by Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, EU. The meeting was attended by Ministers, Ambassadors, and Country Commissioners from nearly 18 countries. The meeting aimed to increase the number of co-sponsors of the MPA proposals and reflect on a joint strategy and future actions for their swift adoption by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
India joins countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Korea, New Zealand, South Africa, and the USA, which are also proactively considering supporting the MPA proposals.
Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Earth Sciences, Dr. Jitendra Singh said that the proposal to designate East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea as MPAs was first put forth to the CCAMLR in 2020 but could not reach a consensus at that time. He said, since then, substantial progress has been made with Australia, Norway, Uruguay and the United Kingdom agreeing to co-sponsor the proposal. The Minister added that by the end of October 2021, India would join these countries in co-sponsoring the MPA proposals.
What is CCAMLR?
CCAMLR is an international treaty to manage Antarctic fisheries to preserve species diversity and stability of the entire Antarctic marine ecosystem.
It came into existence in April 1982 and since 1986, India has been a permanent member of the CCAMLR. Work-related to the CCAMLR is coordinated in India by the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
What is a Marine Protected Area?
A Marine Protected Area or MPA is a designated area that provides protection to all or part of its natural resources. Certain activities within an MPA are limited or prohibited to meet specific conservation, habitat protection, ecosystem monitoring, or fisheries management objectives.
Since 2009, CCAMLR members have developed proposals for MPAs for various regions of the Southern Ocean. CCAMLR’s scientific committee examines these proposals. After CCAMLR members agree upon them, elaborate conservation measures are set out by CCAMLR.
To regulate illegal fishing
Addressing the European Union Meet, Union Minister Dr. Jitendra Singh said that the proposed MPAs are essential for regulating illegal and unreported fishing. It would also help in saving the rich and vulnerable marine life of the Southern Ocean.
Commercial fishing activities in Antarctica have grown in recent times, however, it is illegal and unreported. Countries are increasingly venturing into the Antarctic to catch species that have high money-making value. For instance, Krill, a fish species that Antarctica has in abundance. Krill is a key link in the food chain and contributes iron and other nutrients that fertilize the ocean, and is a vital food source for wildlife including whales, penguins, and seals.
The proposal to designate new Marine Protected Areas in the Southern Ocean, in particular in East Antarctica and in the Weddell Sea would help in saving the environment of Antarctica, which is damaging due to climate change.
The Union Minister also urged the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) member countries to ensure that India remains associated with the formulation, adaptation, and implementation mechanisms of these MPAs in the future.
India’s Antarctica expedition
India had embarked on the Antarctic expedition in 1981, through the Southern Indian Ocean sector and since then, there has been no turning back. According to the Earth Science Minister, to date, India has completed 40 expeditions with plans for the 41st expedition in 2021-22. The Minister also added that India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has solidified its interests in upholding its Antarctic vision.