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A strong signal in favour of protected marine areas in the Antarctic ocean

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Vadim Nefedoff

Last week, the European Parliament voted by a large majority to call for the creation of marine protected areas in the Antarctic Ocean. International negotiations in this regard have been stalled for years by repeated opposition from two member countries of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), Russia and China.

The two proposed marine protected areas in Antarctica could have a combined area of around 3 million km2 and would form be two of the largest marine protected areas in history.

Our French MEP Catherine Chabaud, who is a member of the environment (ENVI) and fisheries (PECH) committees among others, welcomed the decision: "It was high time that the Parliament adopted an official position on such an important issue. Protecting the Antarctic from the effects of climate change, overfishing and pollution is essential to ensure that our ocean continues to act as a climate regulator.”

In her speech at the plenary meeting, Catherine Chabaud reminded MEPs that "there is only one ocean. Its southern part, the one that surrounds the Antarctic continent, plays a major role in balancing the climate. It is a public good of humanity.”

The Antarctic climate is warming three times faster than the global average. The latest analyses of ice samples show contamination of Antarctic ice by microplastics and polymers. In light of this, the French MEP pleaded for the European Union to take the lead in the CCAMLR negotiations: "The creation of these marine protected areas is therefore a climate and biodiversity issue. But it is also a diplomatic and geostrategic issue that poses a challenge for the European Union.”

Catherine Chabaud ended on a note of cautious optimism: "The Parliament's vote sends a strong political signal! But we will have to continue our efforts afterwards to ensure that an ambitious governance model is put in place in the precious territory that is Antarctica.”