India backs move to designate East Antarctica, the Weddell Sea as Marine Protected Areas


    In News 

    Recently, India extended support for protecting the Antarctic environment and for co-sponsoring the proposal of the European Union for designating East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

    Objectives and need 

    • India supports sustainability in protecting the Antarctic environment and  the two proposed MPAs are essential to regulate illegal unreported and unregulated fishing
    •  India’s decision to consider extending support and co-sponsoring the MPA proposals is driven by conservation and sustainable utilisation principles and adhering to the global cooperation frameworks such as Sustainable Development Goals, UN Decade of Oceans, Convention on Biodiversity, etc., to which India is a signatory.
    • India urged the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) member countries to ensure that India remains associated with the formulation, adaptation and implementation mechanisms of these MPAs in future.


    • The proposal to designate East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea as MPAs was first put forth to the CCAMLR in 2020 but could not reach a consensus at that time. Since then, substantial progress has been made with Australia, Norway, Uruguay and the United Kingdom agreeing to co-sponsor the proposal. 
    • This is the first time India is considering co-sponsoring an MPA proposal at the CCAMLR and getting aligned with countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Korea, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA, which are also proactively considering supporting the MPA proposals. 
      • By the end of October 2021, India would join these countries in co-sponsoring the MPA proposals.

    Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)


    • It was established by international convention in 1982 with the objective of conserving Antarctic marine life. This was in response to increasing commercial interest in Antarctic krill resources, a keystone component of the Antarctic ecosystem and a history of over-exploitation of several other marine resources in the Southern Ocean.
    • It is an international commission with 26 Members, and a further 10 countries have acceded to the Convention. Based on the best available scientific information, the Commission agrees on a set of conservation measures that determine the use of marine living resources in the Antarctic.
    •  India has been a permanent member of the CCAMLR since 1986. Work pertaining to the CCAMLR is coordinated in India by the Ministry of Earth Sciences through its attached office, the Centre for Marine Living Resources and Ecology (CMLRE) in Kochi, Kerala.


    What are Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)?

    • It is a marine protected area that provides protection for all or part of its natural resources. 
    • It involves the protective management of natural areas according to predefined management objectives. 
    • MPAs can be conserved for a number of reasons including economic resources, biodiversity conservation, and species protection. 
    • They are created by delineating zones with permitted and non-permitted uses within that zone.
    • It offers nature-based solutions to support global efforts towards climate change adaptation and mitigation.


    • Strictly protected MPA networks in coastal carbon habitats (mangroves, seagrasses, salt marshes) can ensure that no new emissions arise from the loss and degradation of these areas
      • At the same time, they stimulate new carbon sequestration through the restoration of degraded coastal habitats.
    • Well-integrated MPA networks can increase species survival by allowing them to move around and escape certain pressures.
    •  In addition, MPAs where stressors are controlled can be used as sentinel (research) sites to help track the effects of climate change. 


    • Most existing MPAs do not have enough human and financial resources to properly implement conservation and management measures
    • Lack of strictly and permanently protected MPAs limits our ability to support climate change adaptation and mitigation. 

    Way Forward

    • Processes such as Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) and Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) can be used by countries to improve the management of MPAs and help meet multiple objectives, including sustainable development, biodiversity conservation as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation.
    • Adaptation strategies, including National Adaptation Plans and Programmes of Action, as well as mitigation efforts such as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, provide opportunities to use MPAs as an implementation tool for ecosystem-based adaptation and mitigation.
    • Increased political commitments at different levels (national, regional and international) can help boost the governance of and resources available to MPA programmes. This can ensure that MPAs are effective and sufficient in number to fulfil their potential as a key tool for climate change mitigation and adaptation.


    • It is Earth’s southernmost continent.
      • fifth-largest continent 
      • In size, it is near twice the size of Australia
    • Population: Least populated. 
    • Geography:
      • Location: Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. 
      • About 98% of Antarctica’s landmass is covered by ice.
    • Longest River: Onyx. 
    • Largest Lake: Vostok, is one of the largest subglacial lakes in the world.
    • Treaty: The continent is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System.
      • Signed in: 1959 by 38 countries.
      • Focus Areas: 
        • Prohibits military activities, mineral mining, nuclear explosions, and nuclear waste disposal. 
        • It supports scientific research and protects the continent’s ecology.

    Image Courtesy: Britannica


    • Indian Antarctic Program: It is a scientific research and exploration program under the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCPOR). 
      • It started in 1981 when the first Indian expedition to Antarctica was made.
        • NCPOR is the nodal agency for planning, promotion, coordination and execution of the entire gamut of polar and southern ocean scientific research in the country as well as for the associated logistics activities.
    •  Research Stations of India: It has three research stations on the continent – Dakshin Gangotri, Bharati and Maitri. Out of these, Bharati and Mairti are active research stations.
    •  In 2008, India commissioned the Sagar Nidhi, for research, an ice-class vessel, it can cut through the thin ice of 40 cm depth and is the first Indian vessel to navigate Antarctic waters.
    • Antarctica remains unexplored when it comes to depleting global resources such as oil, fisheries and other minerals.
      • The mining ban under the Madrid Protocol to the treaty could be subject to review in 2048.
    • India had embarked on an Antarctic expedition in 1981, through the Southern Indian Ocean sector and since then, there has been no turning back. Till date, India has completed 40 expeditions with plans for the 41st expedition in 2021-22 .


    Weddell Sea

    • It is a large embayment of the Antarctic coastline that forms a deep southward extension of the Southern Ocean. 
    • The Weddell Sea is bounded on the west by the Antarctic Peninsula of West Antarctica, on the east by Coats Land of East Antarctica, and on the extreme south by frontal barriers of the Filchner and Ronne ice shelves. 
    • The Weddell Sea is usually heavily iced, the pack generally extending north to about 60° S in the western and central sectors in early summer, a factor that severely hindered early ship exploration