Global targets for area-based conservation and management must move beyond threshold-based targets alone and must account for the quality of such areas. In the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, a region where key biodiversity faces unprecedented risks from climate change and where there is a growing demand to extract resources, a number of marine areas have been afforded enhanced conservation or management measures through two adopted marine protected areas (MPAs). However, evidence suggests that additional high quality areas could benefit from a proposed network of MPAs. Penguins offer a particular opportunity to identify high quality areas because these birds, as highly visible central-place foragers, are considered indicator species whose populations reflect the state of the surrounding marine environment. We compiled a comprehensive dataset of the location of penguin colonies and their associated abundance estimates in Antarctica. We then estimated the at-sea distribution of birds based on information derived from tracking data and through the application of a modified foraging radius approach with a density decay function to identify some of the most important marine areas for chick-rearing adult penguins throughout waters surrounding Antarctica following the Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) framework. Additionally, we assessed how marine IBAs overlapped with the currently adopted and proposed network of key management areas (primarily MPAs), and how the krill fishery likely overlapped with marine IBAs over the past five decades. We identified 63 marine IBAs throughout Antarctic waters and found that were the proposed MPAs to be adopted, the permanent conservation of high quality areas for penguin species would increase by between 49 and 100% depending on the species. Furthermore, our data show that, despite a generally contracting range of operation by the krill fishery in Antarctica over the past five decades, a consistently disproportionate amount of krill is being harvested within marine IBAs compared to the total area in which the fishery operates. Our results support the designation of the proposed MPA network and offer additional guidance as to where decision-makers should act before further perturbation occurs in the Antarctic marine ecosystem.
- marine IBA
- marine protected area