Antarctic Protection Failed? Don’t Lose Hope. Here’s Why.

Ocean conservation faced a blow this past month as the 25 country members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources were unable to reach an agreement for a marine protected area off the coast of Antarctica. The area would have been 1.8 million square km, twice the size of Germany, safeguarding a critically vulnerable ecosystem that helps to keep the world cool and protect all life. Its failure makes it all the more urgent to ratify the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS) immediately.

Why the Arctic Ocean needs protection now

A treaty has protected the Antarctic region for over half a century. But at the other end of the world, only the tiniest areas within the Arctic Ocean are protected, even as its ice melts and corporate and political interests see open waters as open for business. There is now 75% less Arctic sea ice in the summer than there was 50 years ago. Parts of the Arctic Ocean are now 4C too hot, changing weather patterns globally and leading to droughts, floods, fires and other disasters that threaten all life.

Though the proposed Antarctic reserve would have been sizable, MAPS is several times larger, taking up the entire Arctic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle. In a single initiative, MAPS protects 3% of the Earthโ€™s oceans. The United Nations has set a goal of protecting 10% by 2020, but as 2018 comes to an end our world is still far short of that goal. MAPS is essential if we are to meet this deadline, or the following goal of protecting 30% of the worldโ€™s oceans by 2030. Even 30% is a conservative action given that award-winning biologists like Dr. Edward O. Wilson say we must immediately protect half the entire planet in order to prevent mass extinction. In this light, MAPS is far from a stretch goal. It is a baseline necessity for all life on Earth.

Why we can’t wait for a global ocean treaty

Many supporters of the Antarctic Treaty are now pivoting their attention to the prospect Global Ocean Treaty in an effort to protect more of the worldโ€™s great waters. But this initiative is limited. It allows for protection of high seas, but in order to achieve conservation at the level needed to sustain all life on Earth, countries must also commit to protecting parts of the ocean that are within their exclusive economic zones. The only initiative that addresses this elephant in the living room is MAPS.

At the same time, the Global Ocean Treaty is operating on a bureaucratic timescale that is incompatible with life on Earth. We simply do not have time anymore for world leaders to act like bureaucrats. Now is the time to act with the courage of our convictions and immediately create the protection needed for all life on Earth. Donโ€™t take a no on the Antarctic as a final answer. We can begin immediately with MAPS. Then, strengthened by that victory, we can return our attention to the Antarctic and build an even bigger sanctuary. It is more than possible. We can do this, now.

Arctic is a not-for-profit dedicated to a healthy world. Its first order
of business is the realization of MAPS: the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary,
an effective step to cool our planet and keep our oceans alive.