Australia wants to protect huge area in the Southern Ocean

388,000 square kilometers in the Southern Ocean under protection

Australia wants to protect huge area in the Southern Ocean

The second largest penguin species – the king penguin – also lives in and around Macquarie Island. (icon image).

There was great international disappointment when Russia and China again blocked important marine protection zones around Antarctica at the Antarctic Conference in Hobart last year. However, Australia is now pushing forward with a protected area in its own waters.

Australia’s Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek announced on Thursday that the government plans to triple the size of an existing marine reserve around Macquarie Island, which is 1,500 kilometers south of Tasmania and halfway to Antarctica. The step is a “worldwide significant contribution to marine protection,” said the social democrat.

With the new zone, a further 388,000 square kilometers in the Southern Ocean are to be protected. An area larger than Germany. “Macquarie Island Marine Park is a remote wildlife wonderland – critical habitat for millions of seabirds, seals and penguins,” Plibersek said. The expansion of the protected area around the island will help ensure that the important ecosystem can be better managed in the future.

Home of the king penguins

Up to 100,000 seals, four million penguins and countless seabirds live on and around the island, including several species of albatross, some of which are endangered. A number of other marine animals such as whales also regularly visit the waters around the island. The second largest penguin species – the king penguin – also lives in and around Macquarie Island.

The proposal, which still has to go through a public consultation phase, is currently facing headwinds. So he is strongly criticized by the Australian fishing industry. Seafood Industry Australia chair Veronica Papacosta called the announcement a “PR stunt” by the ruling Labor Party, aimed purely at winning the support of the Green Party and independent parliamentarians in Canberra.

Important protective measure for the Southern Ocean

On the other hand, an alliance of 27 environmental protection groups welcomed the new marine protection zone. After the first sanctuary was set up in 1999, renewal is long overdue, explained Fiona Maxwell of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Because now we understand better how incredibly valuable the region is and what threats it is exposed to.

The campaign director of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Tooni Mahto, also supported the planned expansion. She called them “an important contribution to international efforts to protect the Southern Ocean”. The environmentalist pointed out that oceans around the world are “in big trouble”. In fact, temperatures are rising in the Southern Ocean as well, and the rate of ice loss has increased significantly. According to Mahto, industrial fishing also damages areas with high biodiversity. Marine protected areas would therefore play “a crucial role in building resilience in the face of these increasing threats,” she said.

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Campaign promise partially fulfilled

With the plan, the incumbent Australian government is also fulfilling one of its campaign promises. The Labor Party pledged to protect 30 percent of Australia’s landmass and 30 percent of Australia’s oceans by 2030.

The urgency of this became clear not least in July last year. At that time, Environment Minister Plibersek, who had been in office less than two months at the time, presented a shocking environmental report that the previous government had apparently withheld. This report came to the conclusion that not least because of climate change, all ecosystems on the fifth continent had come under pressure and that a number of animal species were on the brink of extinction.

It was said at the time that nature was in a “poor and deteriorating state”. In addition to climate change, mining, environmental pollution, introduced animal species and habitat loss are to blame. Since 1990 alone, more than 6.1 million hectares of forest have been cleared. Australia now has more non-native plant species than native ones, and the number of species listed as threatened has increased by 8% since 2016. A number of species are already on the verge of extinction. Australia has already lost more species of mammals than any other continent.

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