Precautionary spatial protection to facilitate the scientific study of habitats and communities under ice shelves in the context of recent, rapid, regional climate change
Recent rapid climate change is now well documented in the Antarctic, particularly in the Antarctic Peninsula region. One of the most evident signs of climate change has been
ice-shelf collapse; overall, 87% of the Peninsula’s glaciers have retreated in recent decades. Further ice-shelf collapse will lead to the loss of existing marine habitats and to the creation of new habitats, with consequent changes in both ecological processes and in community structure. Habitats revealed by collapsed ice shelves therefore offer unique scientific opportunities. Given the complexity of the possible interactions, and the need to study these in the absence of any other human-induced perturbation, this paper highlights why commercial fishing activities should not be permitted in these habitats, and suggests that areas under existing ice shelves in Subareas 88.3, 48.1 and 48.5 should be preserved
and protected for scientific study. The boundaries of these areas should henceforth remain fixed, even if the ice shelves recede or collapse in the future. Designation of areas under ice shelves as areas for scientific study would fulfil one of the recommendations made by the Antarctic Treaty Meeting of Experts in 2010.