Thursday, June 25, 2015

More work needed to assess risks to Antarctic wildlife

More resources and coordination are needed to assess the unique wildlife of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean after an international agreement earlier this month to set out a biodiversity plan for the continent, a New Zealand Antarctic expert said Wednesday.

Scientists, policy-makers and conservation managers from around the world met in Monaco to agree on a Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, adopted and implemented by the Antarctic Treaty Parties.

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean were the only regions where humans were not known to have caused the extinction of any species, said Dr Neil Gilbert, an environmental consultant with Canterbury University's Antarctica New Zealand research institute.

But their biodiversity outlook appeared to be no better than that for the rest of the globe and this was a real concern, Gilbert said in a statement.

"Populations of iconic Antarctic species such as Adelie penguins are known to be in decline in parts of Antarctica. Other Antarctic species have never been assessed as to how well they are doing nor how they might fare under a changing climate," said Gilbert.

"Scientists have publicly expressed concern for the emperor penguin, particularly over the coming decades as climate change is likely to have a significant impact on their breeding habitat sea ice and ice shelves."

The 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty set aside Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science, but in recent decades, human activity, such as fishing, tourism and science, had increased.

These factors and the impact of climate change meant it was imperative to establish the outlook for biodiversity in the Antarctic.

While much biodiversity knowledge was being shared, participatory planning and reporting across the Antarctic remained fragmented and under-resourced, he said.

Much could still be done to improve the protected area network on land and at sea, and for assessing the extinction risks of the region's species. 

 Xinhua -

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