HC 846 Sustainability in the Overseas Territories

Written evidence submitted by WWF-UK

WWF is a leading global conservation organisation, employing over 5000 staff in more than 100 countries and with more than 5 million supporters across the world.

WWF has a longstanding relationship with Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, having been involved in Antarctic conservation for 35 years. Our founder, Sir Peter Scott, first visited Antarctica in 1966, following in the footsteps of his father, Capt. RF Scott RN. In 2006, we launched our Antarctic & Southern Ocean Initiative (ASOI), engaging many of our offices including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina in a coordinated approach towards the management and protection of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, including the areas covered by the British Antarctic Territory and the sub-Antarctic South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. WWF works closely and constructively with the UK Government at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), both of which we attend as part of the UK national delegation.


This short submission from WWF-UK addresses just two areas under examination by the Committee’s Inquiry into sustainability in the UK Overseas Territories: (i) Adapting to the impacts of climate change, and (ii) Marine Protected Areas. It focuses on two of the largely uninhabited territories (a) ‘British Antarctic Territory’ and (b) South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

WWF recognise the UK Government as one of the champions of environmental stewardship within the Antarctic Treaty System, with a proven track record in Southern Ocean Marine Protected Areas. Furthermore, the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands have recently designated the South Georgia maritime zone as a large scale IUCN Category VI (sustainable use) Marine Protected Area, and are working to improve the current level of protection by increasing the area set aside as ‘no take’. WWF has worked with the UK Government to highlight and raise the profile and understanding within the Antarctic Treaty System of climate change, adaptation and ecosystem resilience. We are currently undertaking a trail of a new methodology, developed for the Arctic, to identify and map areas of strategic conservation importance on the Antarctic Peninsula because they are likely to serve as sources of ecosystem resilience in a changing climate. However, significant work remains to be done by the UK Government and others to create political amongst all CCAMLR member states to establish meaningful, large scale Marine Protected Areas across the Southern Ocean, including British Antarctic Territory.

1. How the UK Government is helping UKOTs adapt to the impact of climate change

1.1 Climate Change in the Antarctic Peninsula region. The Overseas Territories – Security, Success and Sustainability (FCO, 2012) cites climate change as ‘the key, long term threat faced by the Territories’ and lists the need to address the challenges of climate change as a Priority for Action for the Uninhabited Overseas Territories, including British Antarctic Territory and South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands.

1.1.1 Warming across the Antarctic Peninsula is now well established1. Average temperatures have risen by almost 3ͦ C, a greater rate than almost anywhere else on our planet. This has caused the thinning of glaciers, the rapid retreat of ice-shelves and the exposure of new ice-free terrain2. Climate change is likely to have significant implications for terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems.

1.1.2 Warming encourages the growth and spread of established plants.3 The introduction of non-native species, and corresponding competition with native species, is likely to be a major outcome of climate change within Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems3,4.

1.1.3 Antarctic penguins can be highly sensitive to climate variability and change; they are thought most likely to respond by dispersal rather than adaptation. The ice-obligate emperor and Adélie penguins are more vulnerable to warming, as their distribution will potentially shift pole-ward and contract. In particular, declining sea-ice extent will have a severe impact on emperor penguins, which generally rely on fast ice as a breeding habitat. Ice-intolerant species (e.g. gentoo penguins) may benefit as they expand their range southward15.

1.1.4 Warming of parts of the Southern Ocean surface waters could be as high as 1.5°C by 2100, although there is likely to be less warming (between 0.5 and 0.75°C) of bottom waters and other surface waters1,6. Ocean acidification as a result of increased CO2 uptake has recently been shown by British scientists to have had a detrimental effects on marine systems7, particularly on shell-building organisms including plankton species.

1.1.5 A reduction in annual mean sea-ice extent has been observed around the western Antarctic Peninsula8. Warmer waters and declining sea-ice have been associated with a decline in krill stocks of up to 80% in the southwest Atlantic9 and reduced availability of prey for higher predators 10,11,12. Changes in the extent of winter sea-ice habitat and prey availability may result in changes to the size and distribution of predator populations, or even the disappearance of some colonies.

1.1.6 Representative networks of marine and terrestrial Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs) and Antarctic Specially Managed Areas (ASMAs) (designated within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) , designated by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR – see response to next section) are likely to become an increasingly important tool in mitigating the impacts of climate change, by ensuring that other pressures are minimised and thus improving the likelihood of withstanding or adapting to change. However, the timing, extent and location of climate change impacts on these ecosystems may be difficult to predict. It should remain a priority to aim for a representative network of ASPAs in line with Article 3 of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, whilst ensuring that the protected area system remains dynamic and flexible, with the ability to respond to changes in the distribution and characteristics of values for protection.

1.2 Rapid Assessment of Circum-Arctic Ecosystem Resilience (RACER), and its possible application to the Antarctic Peninsula Region.

1.2.1 WWF has worked with the UK Government to highlight and raise the profile and understanding of climate change, adaptation & ecosystem resilience, and ocean acidification at ATCM and CCAMLR. In 2012, the UK delegation introduced WWF’s RACER methodology to the Antarctic Treaty Committee for Environmental Protection. RACER ( www.panda.org/arctic/racer) is a new tool for identifying and mapping places of strategic conservation importance because they are, and will continue to be, sources of ecosystem resilience in a changing climate. The CEP endorsed a trial of RACER on a terrestrial area on the Antarctic Peninsula, which will take place in 2013.

1.2.2 WWF developed RACER because current approaches to managing often vulnerable polar habitats and species are not necessarily keeping pace with accelerating climate change. RACER is a new approach which locates sources of ecological strength and durability in today’s Arctic ecosystems – known as ecosystem resilience - and tests their persistence in a climate-altered future. Focusing conservation attention on these enduring sources of resilience is important for the continued functioning of polar ecosystems.

1.2.3 As such, RACER might assist to underpin ecosystem-based management approaches for Antarctic environments in the context of climate change. The UK also introduced RACER to CCAMLR in October 2012, recommending that the Committee might remain alert to this trial in the terrestrial context, and assess whether such a trial might also be appropriate in the marine realm.

2. How the introduction of ‘Marine Protected Areas’ could safeguard the marine environment in the uninhabited territories

2.1 MPAs in the ‘British Antarctic Territory’.

2.1.1 WWF recognise that the UK Government, working with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), are at the forefront of systematic conservation planning and marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean.

2.1.2 This was exemplified by the designation of the South Orkney Islands Southern Shelf Marine Protected Area (SOISS MPA) by CCAMLR in November 2009. The SOISS MPA, proposed by the UK, covers 94,000 km2. It was the world’s first MPA located entirely in the High Seas, and it prohibits all fishing activities. In 2010, WWF awarded BAS and CCAMLR its highest accolade – the prestigious Gift to the Earth award – in recognition of the SOISS MPA and CCAMLRs commitment to establishing a representative network of marine protected areas by 2012.

2.1.3 Despite some initial progress, however, CCAMLR failed to meet its MPA commitments this year, and much remains to be done by the UK Government, and others, to create the political will amongst all CCAMLR member states to ensure that ambitious and meaningful large scale MPAs, including marine reserves, are designated across the Southern Ocean, including the Antarctic Peninsula region, the Scotia Arc and the Weddell Sea. WWF and BAS participated in the first technical MPA planning workshops established by CCAMLR for the Antarctic Peninsula region (May 2012) and the circumpolar MPA workshop, including the Weddell Sea region (September 2012).

2.2 South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands MPA

2.2.1 In February 2012, the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) announced the designation of a Marine Protected Area covering 1.07 million km2 for the South Georgia maritime zone. WWF-UK considers this to be an important first step towards protecting one of the biodiversity 'gems' of the Southern Ocean, thereby helping to increase the resilience of the marine environment to the effects of climate change, and making a significant contribution towards CCAMLR's goal of a representative system of MPAs for the Convention Area, as well as wider global marine protection targets.

2.2.2 The provisions of the MPA management plan are set within the context of an exemplary fisheries management system which operates to an exceptionally high standard. Examples of existing good practice include minimum depth restrictions, responsive reductions in quotas, MSC certification of the South Georgia tooth-fish fishery and uniquely identifiable markings on hooks. In many cases, the regulations are stricter and the quotas lower than those set by CCAMLR. However, the area set aside as IUCN Category 1b 'no take’ (closed to fisheries) is 20,000km, or less than 2% of the total area. Other sub-Antarctic MPAs have included a much larger percentage area as no-take, for example the Prince Edward Islands at 38% No-take or Macquarie Island at 36% No-take.

2.2.3 It is commendable that GSGSSI have developed a number of proposals for additional and improved temporal and spatial protection measures (including closed areas) within less than 1 year of adopting the Management Plan. This includes a proposal for the seasonal closure of the krill fishery from October to April to provide temporal protection during the critical breeding period for many South Georgia species. WWF would strongly encourage the UK Government and the GSGSSI to maintain this level of commitment to continuous improvement, and to ambitiously pursue a high level of marine protection for the exceptionally biodiverse and globally important South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Such an approach might also consider taking a more wide-ranging, precautionary approach (in line with CCAMLRs precautionary principles). This is wholly appropriate given that South Georgia hosts exceptional populations of a number of species, including gentoo penguins and light-mantled sooty albatrosses (IUCN status: near-threatened); macaroni penguins, grey-headed albatross, wandering albatrosses and white chinned petrel (IUCN status: vulnerable) and black-browed albatross (IUCN status: endangered)

2.2.4 The South Georgia MPA may also serve to reduce the risk of oil pollution within the Territory’s maritime and coastal zone. The Management Plan states that a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuels in inshore waters around SGSSI is ‘being considered’. WWF would urge GSGSSI to implement this provision as a matter of urgency, to mirror the recent ban within the adjacent Antarctic Treaty Area (south of 60ͦ S).

2.2.5 The management plan however does not explicitly include any ban on commercial mineral resource activities (including oil and gas development) within the region. WWF recommends that the UK Government work with the GSGSSI to ensure a complete and indefinite precautionary ban on all commercial mineral resource activities within the area covered by the MPA.

11 December 2012

Prepared 14th January 2013