A Marine Protected Area in the Weddell Sea

Dr Stefan Hain, Head of the Environmental Policy Unit at the Alfred Wegener Institute.

Weddell Sea



The effects of climate change have long been felt in the remote Antarctic. In contrast to the North Pole, however, in the South Pole region there are still areas that have shown few or no changes and are worth protecting (like the Weddell Sea). These areas could, for the foreseeable future, serve as sanctuaries for the unique and diverse cold-loving fauna of the Southern Ocean; a place where they could adapt without disturbance to the gradual changes in their habitat.

With this goal in mind, AWI researchers began in 2012 developing a concept based on best available science for a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Weddell Sea on behalf of the German federal government. Since 2016, the proposal for a Weddell Sea MPA (WSMPA) has been discussed at every meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). However, it has not yet been approved, which also means that no protected area has been designated in the Weddell Sea.

But what makes the Weddell Sea worth protecting? The WSMPA proposal cites numerous reasons. Alongside its enormous and unique biodiversity is the fact that the region is untouched: since the discovery of the Weddell Sea in 1823, there has been no commercial fishing in this area due to the difficult, virtually impassable sea ice conditions. This makes the Weddell Sea one of the last pristine regions of the Antarctic, where the natural balance has not yet been influenced by human activities. And we want it to stay that way.