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Antarctica: a scientific eco-regionalisation programme to support national and regional conservation efforts

France has participated in international Antarctic research for a long time, notably through permanent scientific installations :

  • in the sub-Antarctic archipelagos of Port-aux-Français (Kerguelen, 1949), Paul Martin de Viviès (Amsterdam, 1949) and Alfred Faure (Crozet, 1963-1964),
  •  of the Adélie Land base,

as well as the programmes of the Institut Paul Emile Victor, of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle and French scientific research centres.
One of the 12 initial signatories of the Antarctic Treaty, France is also an initial signatory of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

New French involvement on a regional level: The French Eco-Regionalisation Programme (PERF)

Since 2005, studies and considerations have taken place within the CCAMLR regarding the setting up of a network of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean. In 2011 these international works have enabled the redefinition of the key areas covering zones both under and outside of national jurisdiction. France is directly concerned by these works as the zones identified notably concern the French sub-Antarctic archipelagos of Crozet and Kerguelen as well as the Dumont d'Urville Sea around Adélie Land where a French base is located.
To contribute to these works further and to lead the way, in 2010 France set up an eco-regionalisation programme called PERF aiming to:

  • Specify the conservation stakes in waters under French jurisdiction. French analysis has therefore concentrated on the sectors of the Kerguelen and Crozet islands by including, as much as necessary, the surrounding oceanic zones in close collaboration with Australian and South African scientific organisations.
  • Contribute to regional analysis on the biogeography of the Southern Ocean due to the considerable amount of information and data gathered by French researchers outside of French waters. The French PERF programme thus provides very useful elements to the Census of Antarctic Marine Life.

Developed in the spirit of regional cooperation, this project also includes the organisation of international workshops such as those held in Brest in May and August last year, thanks to a partnership between the AAMP and the Institut Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV), hosting CCAMLR experts as well as regional workshops like those concerning the del Cano Crozet zone in order to envisage synergy between French and South African actions.

A four-stage programme

  1. Additions to bio-regionalisation carried out as part of the CCAMLR thanks to analysis of geographical, topographical, and oceanographic abiotic factors. This stage could take place through consultation with other countries, in particular Australia;
  2. Methodological additions in order to implement eco-regionalisation by adding species distribution analysis in order to generate cartographies of potential habitats for the main species. In the case of fish, this involves mapping, for main species, habitats essential to their life cycle (spawning grounds, nurseries, adult distribution, etc.) For other species, this would involve mapping presence (rare species) or potential habitats and for larger predators this would mean highlighting areas where the species are present but also, if possible, feeding zones;
  3. Development of a management approach based on ecosystems (EBA Ecosystem-based management) that would enable ecological information to be superimposed on that of the economic use of the area studied;
  4. Drawing up a procedure to designate a marine protected areas and their level of protection

A partnership with Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises and French researchers

As part of the PERF programme, the AAMP is in close partnership with the TAAF as well as several French laboratories and scientific research centres (MNHN, Observatoire océanologique de Villefranche sur Mer, CNRS de Chize). This programme aims to deepen regional works in progress within the CCAMLR in order to provide more information on natural heritage, species distribution, and human activities.

Joint actions for the conservation of marine ecosystems

Thanks to the sharing of scientific works, the meeting of CCAMLR experts in Brest in August 2011 enabled the creation of a joint proposal by France and Australia for a network of seven MPAs in the Eastern Antarctic.
A scientific and political partnership is being created with South Africa in the Del Cano Crozet zone.

Reinforcing French conservation actions

The still almost pristine biological heritage of the French southern islands is rich and of considerable importance. Plants and animals with original adaptations have developed through several million years of evolution in total isolation, thousands of kilometres from any continent.
The French sub-Antarctic islands are the largest of the rare landmasses of the southern Indian Ocean. They are crucial sites for marine species reproducing on land. They notably provide shelter for a large amount of avifauna in the southern Indian Ocean, hosting 34 species of seabirds and two endemic species of land birds (the Black-faced Sheathbill, Chionis minor, and Eaton’s Pintail, Anas eatoni). Of these 34 species:

  • 11 are on the IUCN Red List
  • Seven are considered “vulnerable”
  • Three are “endangered” and
  • One is “in critical danger of extinction" The Amsterdam Albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis) whose sole population is estimated at 180 individuals (30 reproducing couples on the site each year).

The Crozet archipelago hosts the world's largest colony of King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), Kerguelen’s beaches hosts the world's second largest population of Elephant seals of the southern seas and the coastal waters of the archipelago shelter the only population of a subspecies of Commerson’s dolphin (Cephalorynchus commersonii ssp.). Large colonies of Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) and Sub-Antarctic fur seals (A. tropicalis) reproduce there.
The conservation of these territories therefore plays a major role in maintaining biodiversity on an international level. These are the stakes of the TAAF national parks, the largest in France, that covers a surface area of 22,700 km2 including 7,000 km2 de of land and 15,700 km2 of sea in territorial waters (up to 12 nautical miles) of the islands of Saint Paul, Amsterdam, Penguin Island, Pig Island and Apostle Island, East Island and for the Kerguelens.
These conservation efforts should be supported and increased in order to better understand the ecology of these species and the way ecosystems work. The majority of food resources of these species are found at sea.
The scientific data and information resulting from the PERF eco-regionalisation programme aims to provide a basis for the setting up of new protection and management measures.