The Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica is one of the last great wildernesses on Earth. Isolated by ice, wind and wild seas, it’s a place of spectacular natural beauty and vital refuge to iconic wildlife such as penguins, seals, seabirds, and whales reliant on tiny shrimp-like crustaceans - Antarctic krill. There around 380 million tonnes of Antarctic krill in the Southern Ocean, similar to the total weight of human life on the planet. Few conservation measures afford vulnerable plants and animals and their critical habitats the same degree of security as marine protected areas (MPAs). They’re critical to boosting resilience to climate change and human activities such as fishing, and supporting the climatic processes on which species depend. That's why WWF is trying to protect 30%of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, 10.8 million square kilometres, by the 2030. Marine protected areas protect fragile nursery habitats and vulnerable species, and help support the entire marine ecosystem. The main channel for these protected areas is the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR),established by international convention in 1982. CCAMLR aims to maintain existing ecological relationships and to achieve conservation while allowing the ‘rational use’ of living resources, like regulated fishing. It does this primarily through MPAs.

Four Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) chicks with an adult at Snow Hill Island colony. Antarctica
© / Bryan and Cherry Alexander / WWF

The Commission committed to establish a network of MPAs in the Southern Ocean by 2012. CCAMLR is currently considering proposals for the Weddell Sea, East Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula, where krill fishing is highly concentrated. Global demand for fish meal and omega supplements are likely to lead to increased krill fishing in the region. However, nations have come together and put differences aside to protect a wild Antarctic seas. In 2016, history was achieved when 1.55 million square kilometres of the Ross Sea was protected. WWF is a member of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), a union of over 30 non-government groups dedicated to Antarctic protection. We provide CCAMLR with some of the science needed to support MPA proposals and work through our international offices to encourage CCAMLR members to support these MPAs. A network of large MPAs is our best way of protecting whales, penguins, seals, and krill – the foundation of the Southern Ocean food chain.

Southern Ocean – safeguards for krill

As global fisheries become depleted, there is growing interest to expand fishing throughout the Southern Oceans In particular, krill fishing needs to be closely monitored and controlled to ensure whales, penguins and other wildlife are protected. Here is what WWF is advocating for:

  • Incorporate climate change in fisheries management. Currently climate change is not included in ecosystem-based management of CCAMLR. Critical feeding habitat for whales, seals and penguins where krill catches occur need to be carefully managed and must take into account climate change impacts.
  • Improve transparency in krill fishing. Currently, CCAMLR does not make krill fishing locations available to the public or observers such as the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition of which WWF is a member. Krill fishing must not deplete local wildlife food sources and so the location of krill fishing is critical, and this relies on accurate spatial reporting.
  • A highly precautionary approach to the setting of krill catch limits, and the distribution of fishing activity, which puts nature first. WWF does not endorse raising current catch limits.
  • Reduce impacts on predators such as whales, penguins, seals and seabirds through improved science-based management. Although some land predators such as penguins and seabirds are monitored by CCAMLR, whales feeding in areas of krill fishing are not.

Taken together, MPAs and highly precautionary, ecosystem-based fisheries management will give krill and Antarctic wildlife the best chance of thriving, both now and into the future.

Marine protected areas can ensure that marine life from tiny krill to huge whales thrive in an environment resilient to climate change and free from fishing pressure.

Chris Johnson

Senior Manager, WWF Antarctic Program


What is a marine protected area (MPA)?

  • An MPA is an area designated and effectively managed to protect marine ecosystems, processes, habitats and species. MPAs include marine reserves, ocean sanctuaries, no-take zones, marine parks and marine managed areas. The level of protection and range of activities allowed or prohibited varies according to the MPA.
  • The 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development committed to conserve 10% of marine areas through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas by 2020.
  • CCAMLR committed to create a representative system of MPAs by 2012. The area now managed by CCAMLR covers around 10% of the Earth's surface. However, just 4.6% of this area is protected with two MPAs in the Southern Ocean, one in the Ross Sea, the other south of the South Orkney Islands.