Southern Ocean Marine Protection Post Rio+20: The Future We Could of had (but Could Not Reach Consensus on)

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The international community has failed to fulfil a number of important commitments and obligations to protect the biodiversity of the world’s oceans by establishing representative networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) across the world’s oceans by 2012, as part of the implementation target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Parties renewed their commitment at the Rio +20 meeting – with the inclusion of a reference to the need for the establishment of MPAs in the 2012 Rio outcome document titled “The Future We Want.” To date, the impact of overfishing on the biodiversity of the marine environment constitutes one of the principal reasons called upon for the creation of marine protected areas in the high seas, however there is growing consensus for the implementation of spatial management measures – such as MPAs – to be considered in a broader context, rather than solely that of fisheries. Within the framework of precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches, MPAs (in particular areas closed to certain fishing activities) could constitute valuable means to not only reduce the impact of fishing on vulnerable marine habitats and species, but also serve as a buffer for uncertainty and for stressing factors – such as carbon sequestration, climate change and ocean acidification – by according ecosystems and habitats the protection they might require. Antarctica has evolved for millennia without a permanent human population. Some areas with little to no human interference or impact – such as the Ross Sea and East Antarctica- provide scientists with the chance to gain greater understand of how species and ecosystems respond to environmental change. By eliminating or limiting certain types of human activities, MPAs and Marine Reserves (MR) can reduce the number of variables that scientists would need to consider.

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