Reasons to be cheerful #5

Antarctica’s Southern Ocean getting MPA attention 

Marine Protected Area designations are gaining momentum this year, and now Antarctica is getting its turn. The importance of Antarctic waters as the ‘engine room of the ocean’ is being recognised, and discussions are underway for three potential new Marine Protected Areas to be designated to protect fragile polar ecosystems. Krill form a part of these ecosystems, and they may be small but they are hugely important to the stability of the food chain in the Antarctic. Healthy krill stocks will help support a healthy marine ecosystem. Krill are thought to be particularly affected by climate change, therefore we need to protect a large area of this ecosystem to help it resist the onset of climate change-induced issues and resist the decline of the small but mighty krill.  The area is classified as ‘high seas’, meaning that it doesn’t come under any one country’s jurisdiction, and so these areas are much harder to protect. In order to set up meaningful and effective protective measures for Antarctic waters, collaboration is needed between lots of different governments and organisations. What’s great is that this is exactly what’s happening at the moment. There’s a meeting in Hobart, Australia, between representatives from 25 different governments and the aim is to discuss the designation of 3 new Marine Protected Areas for this fragile and hugely important ecosystem. Fingers crossed that commitments are made and plans for new designations are confirmed so that the krill can keep doing their thing into the future.

Cracking down on illegal fishing – tracing by numbers

One of the difficulties with tracking fishing vessels at sea is that they can change their name, call sign or the flag they fly (the country that they say they are from) pretty easily, and this makes it easier to dodge the authorities if they are fishing illegally. Having an IMO number attached to a vessel helps authorities to monitor them more closely and spot suspicious activity like attempts to mask the identity of a fishing boat. It’s a number that is unique to the boat and cannot be changed. It’s imprinted on the engine and the hull and attached to everything the boat does for its whole life.  Any time the vessel changes its name, flag or any other details, the records attached to their IMO number are updated. So it increases transparency, making it easier to conduct a background check on the ownership of vessels in the seafood supply chain. The good news is that IHS Maritime, the company that regulates the IMO number, will now be allocating IMO numbers to a greater range of fishing vessels.  Previously only merchant vessels and fishing boats of 24m and larger that weigh more than 100 gross tonnes could apply for an IMO number, but it has just been changed so that fishing vessels that are 12 metres or longer and that weigh under 100 gross tonnes can have one too. The Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, who authorise vessels to fish on the high seas, will now require all eligible vessels who fish in their region to have an IMO number. It’s at no extra cost to the fishermen and is hoped that more vessels with IMO numbers will mean greater traceability in the fishing industry and will help increase transparency and crack down on illegal fishing.

Ecuador, Costa Rica and Columbia create giant marine reserve

Fish can’t read charts. When they’re swimming in the South Pacific, off the coast of Ecuador, Costa Rica or Columbia they aren’t aware when they cross imaginary lines into different national waters. The marine environment pays no attention to the lines we draw as it works as one big interconnected system, and that’s how we should be seeing it in order to manage it effectively. This is what the Presidents of Ecuador, Costa Rica and Columbia have agreed to do – to swap their charts and knowledge of the rich biodiversity of their national waters and to discuss how best to protect them. There’s talk of expanding the three UNESCO World Heritage sites that fall into this area to protect more fragile marine ecosystems and their shark populations from fishing. This collaboration between neighbouring countries in the name of marine conservation has been said to be an ‘historic moment’ by Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. It’s great because it shows pride and respect for the underwater world, and the desire to protect it for future generations. It’s a positive change in approach, and something to be optimistic about.

Extra protection for sharks and rays

Some sharks and rays can swim happier this month. Thresher sharks, Silky sharks and Devil rays are now listed under CITES Appendix II which means that they are offered some protection from the international shark fin trade. Appendix II is where species are put that need protection to make sure that trade doesn’t undermine their sustainability. It means that only fins from sustainable sources will be able to be traded internationally, and that any sharks that are caught will have to be recorded to help monitor numbers – something that isn’t consistently done at the moment. Some people think that listing species helps the stocks to recover because they are more closely regulated, but others also think that listing them makes them appear more valuable and that it won’t necessarily stop overfishing. At least the threat to these species is being recognised and steps are being taken to attempt to slow their decline.





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