Australian officials actively participate in the international forums of the Antarctic Treaty System to promote improved environmental protection and conservation outcomes for the Antarctic region.
Examples of management achievements in recent years include:
- Australia co-convened a Committee for Environmental Protection workshop in 2006 on Antarctica's Future Environmental Challenges, which led to the development of a strategic work plan for the committee. Highest priorities currently include removing non-native species and preventing new introductions, climate change, tourism and area protection.
- In 2007, parties to the Antarctic Treaty approved an Australian-led proposal to establish an Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA) in the Larsemann Hills region of East Antarctica, with the objective of promoting cooperation and collaboration between the parties that are active in the region (Australia, China, India, Romania and the Russian Federation).
- In 2008, Australia led an international review of the environmental aspects of China's proposal to establish a new research station at Dome A, within the AAT. Australia led a similar review in 2011 of the Republic of Korea's proposal to establish a new station in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.
- The 2010 Antarctic Treaty Meeting of Experts on Climate Change and Implications for Antarctic Management and Governance and the subsequent Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting endorsed Australia's assessment of climate change implications for current and future Antarctic infrastructure, logistics and environmental values, and agreed that other parties to the Antarctic Treaty should undertake and report on similar assessments.
- In 2010 and 2011, Australia conducted official inspections of several Antarctic facilities operated by other parties, including assessing compliance with the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty and Madrid Protocol.
- Australia held the Chair of the Committee for Environmental Protection from 2003 to 2006, and since 2008 has held the position of committee Vice-Chair. Since 2008, Australia has also led an official subsidiary body of the committee, established following an Australian proposal, with the objective of improving the effectiveness of management plans for ASMAs and ASPAs.
- In CCAMLR, Australia has played a leading role in discussions about how to improve the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources. For example, in 2006, CCAMLR prohibited the use of bottom trawling gear in areas shallower than 550 metres in the high seas areas of the convention area. CCAMLR also now requires an assessment of impacts on bottom environments before any fishing activities occur. Following an Australian proposal in 2006, CCAMLR prohibited the use of deep-sea gillnets in the convention area. Directed fishing for sharks has also been prohibited by CCAMLR. Australia's patrol presence in the Heard Island and McDonald Islands region has resulted in no reported (IUU) fishing activity in the Heard Island and McDonald Islands exclusive economic zone since 2004-05.
- A CCAMLR Conservation Measure was adopted to increase cooperation between CCAMLR and noncontracting parties to undertake more coordinated capacity building, including in port and flag states. Australia co-sponsored a successful proposal to CCAMLR that resulted in a productive workshop in Africa in 2010 to build capacity among African states that have engaged in IUU fishing or IUU-related activities.
In recent years, there has been near zero seabird bycatch by legal fishers operating in commission-managed fisheries. However, bycatch of seabirds, including endangered albatrosses and petrels, remains unsustainable in the Southern Hemisphere. All 22 species of albatross protected under the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels are now listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as threatened. It is estimated that worldwide up to 300 000 seabirds are killed each year during interactions with coastal and high seas fisheries. Coastal fisheries are subject to state legislations and fisheries regulations; in contrast, high seas fisheries are open access operations. Although the high seas have been divided into management areas of various regional fisheries management organisations, the incentives to avoid overexploitation and to operate sustainably are weak.220 Many of the high seas tuna fisheries, including in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, have failed to adopt and effectively implement the known effective bycatch mitigation measures. Bycatch from IUU fishing is difficult to estimate but known to occur at a higher rate than from legal fisheries due to the likely absence of bycatch mitigation measures. Australia, through its active engagement with the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels and other international forums (including CCAMLR and regional fisheries management organisations) is actively pursuing the adoption of sustainable fishing practices that minimise seabird bycatch (Box 7.8).