Progress towards a representative network of Southern Ocean protected areas
Global threats to ocean biodiversity have generated a worldwide movement to take actions to improve conservation and management. Several international initiatives have recommended the adoption of marine protected areas (MPAs) in national and international waters. National governments and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources have successfully adopted multiple MPAs in the Southern Ocean despite the challenging nature of establishing MPAs in international waters. But are these MPAs representative of Southern Ocean biodiversity? Here we answer this question for both existing and proposed Antarctic MPAs, using benthic and pelagic regionalizations as a proxy for biodiversity. Currently about 11.98% of the Southern Ocean is protected in MPAs, with 4.61% being encompassed by no-take areas. While this is a relatively large proportion of protection when compared to other international waters, current Antarctic MPAs are not representative of the full range of benthic and pelagic ecoregions. Implementing additional protected areas, including those currently under negotiation, would encompass almost 22% of the Southern Ocean. It would also substantially improve representation with 17 benthic and pelagic ecoregions (out of 23 and 19, respectively) achieving at least 10% representation.