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The Antarctic treaty is a range of tools for the conservation and sustainable management of the continent and the Southern Ocean

Making up 15% of the worldwide oceans, the Southern Ocean is, just like the Antarctic continent, subject to a specific legal system: the Antarctic Treaty system. This system is made up of several instruments, including :

  • the 1959 Antarctic Treaty,
  •  its protocol concerning the protection of the environment,
  •  measures taken during meetings of consultative sections,
  • the 1972 convention for the conservation of Antarctic seals,
  •  the agreement on the protection of albatross and petrels,
  •  a specific convention on marine environments: the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

Making the continent an area dedicated to science and peace without jurisdiction, the Antarctic Treaty set a precedent in international law by freezing all territorial claims and any pretentions of sovereignty. The waters surrounding the continent up to the latitude of 60 degrees south are therefore the subject of no national jurisdiction and are granted High Seas status (Article VI of the Treaty).
France, as one of the 12 member states involved in the Antarctic system, has been participating in international research efforts for a long time notably through its base in Adélie Land, the Paul Emile Victor Institute, the programs of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle and French scientific research centres.
As a “possessioned” state, France is doubly interested in the changes in progress to the Antarctic system, through the Adélie Land area and sub-Antarctic archipelagos.

Pre-existing protected areas

Antarctic Special Protection Zones (ASPZ)

In 1964 the Antarctic Special Protection Zone system was put in place. These zones were established in application of the measures agreed for the conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora adopted during the meeting of consulting parties of the treaty. Other measures regarding different issues were adopted afterwards in order to widen, complete, and reinforce protection of the Antarctic environment.

Atlantic Treaty Protocol concerning environmental protection

Through this Protocol signed in Madrid in 1991, the contracting parties undertake to:

  • ensure overall protection of the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems and
  • designate the Antarctic as a natural reserve, dedicated to peace and science.

Coming into force in 2002, this Protocol replaced the first categories of protected zones. It provides for the designation of Antarctic Special Protection Zones (ASPZ) and Antarctic Special Management Zones (ASMZ).
According to the Protocol, any Antarctic region, including maritime regions (article 2 of the Protocol), can be designated as a ASPZ with a view to protecting environmental, scientific, historical, or exceptionally aesthetic values, or a wild natural state, or any combination of these values or further still any planned or current scientific research.
France has designated two APZ: The archipelago of the Pointe Géologie and Port Martin in Adélie Land.
Access to an "Antarctic Special Protection Zone" is prohibited to any person not bearing an issued permit.

Antarctic Special Management Zones (ASMZ)

A region where activities are carried out or likely to be carried out in the future can be designated as an ASMZ, to facilitate the planning and coordination of activities, to avoid any potential conflict, to improve cooperation between parties and to reduce effects on the environment as much as possible.
The Meeting of Consulting Parties of the Antarctic Treaty also insists on the necessity to protect sites or monuments of historic interest. Since 1972 there has been an official list of historical monuments and sites (HMS).
Special zones can also be designated due to the provisions of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS) and the CCAMLR.

A commission dedicated to the conservation of Antarctic marine fauna and flora: CCAMLR

Adopted within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty system, the CCAMLR was set up following increasing concerns regarding the risks relating to the impact of the increased capture of krill and marine organisms, notably birds, seals, and fish that depend directly on krill for food.
CCAMLR zone of application

Objective: to conserve marine life without prohibiting reasonable exploitation

Seals and cetaceans are not concerned as they are covered by other conventions: the International Whaling Commission and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals.
The CCAMLR commission can adopt:

  • Conservation measures. These can concern the opening or closing of zones, sectors, or subsectors for scientific study or conservation, including special zones designated for protection and scientific study.
  • Conservation measures for CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Program (CEMP) sites. Set up in 1985, this program aims to implement an ecosystem-based approach. Its objectives are:
  1. to detect and highlight important changes in critical elements of the ecosystem;
  2. to distinguish between modifications due to the exploitation of commercial species and those due to physical and biological variations in the environment.

Since 2005, studies and considerations have taken place within the CCAMLR on the setting up of a network of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean. The creation of a representative system of protected areas has been agreed upon. The first MPA was created to the south of the Southern Orcades islands (conservation measure 91-03283).
From France's point of view, in order to contribute to these works and to promote the important French scientific research in the area, a scientific eco-regionalisation program (PERF) [lien vers partager > cooperations régionales > antarctique > programme d’éco-régionalisation] has been developed by the Agency and the TAAF.