Australia will be proposing that an area of the Southern Ocean be declared a vulnerable marine ecosystem when it meets with international colleagues at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart this week.

Earlier this year, an Australian-led marine census of life in the icy waters off East Antarctica found an abundance of sea life, including previously unknown species. The Collaborative East Antarctic Marine Census (CEAMARC) also noted that large swathes of ocean bottom were scoured by drifting icebergs that left nothing in their wake.

Leader of the Australian delegation, Dr Tony Press, said that complex ocean ecosystems relied on each other for survival, and disturbing these colonies through indiscriminate fishing practices could cause irrevocable damage.

Dr Press, who is Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, said that krill would be another major focus at this year’s meeting as demand for the small crustacean continued to increase.

“Last year, CCAMLR approved a suite of measures aimed at precautionary and orderly development of the krill fishery”, Dr Press said.

“This will include allowing observers to be placed on board CCAMLR vessels to collect data vital to the management of the fishery. Observers are mandatory in other CCAMLR fisheries — for example, toothfish — and we should ensure they become accepted practice in the krill fishery as well.

“Good progress was made at last year’s meeting and we are optimistic of broad agreement this time around.”

Australia remains committed to fighting illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and will pursue the listing of ships involved in IUU fishing on the CCAMLRIUU Vessel List.

Dr Press heads a delegation of representatives of Commonwealth, State and Territory governments, conservation groups and the fishing industry, who provide scientific and policy advice.

The meeting will be held from Monday 27 October to Friday 7 November at CCAMLR headquarters in Hobart.