A science-based management model to protect isolated and vulnerable subantarctic ecosystems

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Penguins in TAAF

Since the 1950’s, the local authority of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF) have been working hand in hand with the scientific community for the protection and the management of the French Southern Lands (TAF), leading to the creation of the TAF nature reserve in 2006 and its extension at sea in 2016 (672,969 km2). This very large MPA raises new challenges related to the lack of knowledge on marine ecosystems and the already visible impacts of global changes. The science-based model of TAF is key for the successful management of one of the largest MPAs in the world.

Last update: 24 Jan 2019
Challenges addressed

- Vulnerability of unique subantarctic marine ecosystems, presenting one of the most important species richness and diversity in the Southern ocean.


-  Need to optimize logistical, financial and human resources to manage one of the largest marine protected areas in the world


- Sparsely documented territory where important knowledge gaps remain


- Difficulty of surveilling and supplyinga very isolated territory, located 2000 to 5000kms away from any continent


- Impacts of global changes that are already affecting the TAF (southward shift of oceanic water fronts, rise of temperature and acidity, human activities (fisheries)…).

Scale of implementation
Open sea
Protected and conserved areas governance
Coastal and marine spatial management
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
French Southern and Antarctic Lands
Summary of the process

Please see diagram below.

Building Blocks
A long term partnership with Scientists

Since the 1950’s, scientists are studying the uniqueness of the French Southern Lands (TAF) acting as an open-sky lab for researchers on natural sciences. The first scientific stations built then now constitute the districts capitals that welcome more than 200 scientists every year from 60 research programs. The Institut Polaire Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV) coordinates those activities and ensures the excellence of scientific research in the TAF.

Since 1955, the local authority of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF) administrates this territory, placing science and environmental protection as a key stone of French sovereignty on the TAF.

Aware of the vulnerability of these ecosystems, the scientific community advocated for the creation of the TAF nature reserve and advised its extension at sea in 2016. The nature reserve management, ensured by TAAF, is supported by a scientific committee, the Polar environment Committee (CEP), which provides advice for research and management actions.

With the enlarged perimeter of the reserve, the link with scientists is more essential than ever. The new management plan includes research activities to inform an adapted and efficient management of the rich and vulnerable ecosystems of TAF.

Enabling factors

The historical partnership with the Institut Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV), coordinating scientific programs in TAF, ensures the excellence of research activities. The strong involvement of scientific partners enabled the creation of the Nature reserve and its extension at sea thanks to an ecoregionalization work. Their role in governance and in the elaboration of the management plan now ensures the robustness of management actions.

Lesson learned

Scientific organizations being involved in TAF for more than 60 years, the adhesion of the whole scientific community is mandatory for the implementation of a nature reserve and its regulation.  Involving scientists in the governance and management of the reserve ensures the ownership of conservation actions by those major stakeholders.


While the mutual benefits of conservation and science activities are acknowledged by both scientists and the local authority of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF), a clear statement of each organization’s responsibility, with for example the establishment of conventions, is essential to avoid any conflicts.


Research being one of the main activities in the French Southern Lands, the environmental impacts of scientific programs are to be properly assessed and validated by the scientific committee.

An ecoregionalization process leading to the creation of one of the largest MPA in the world

Since 2011, the scientific community has engaged an ecoregionalization work, leading to the identification of important marine areas in the French Southern Lands (TAF) and neighbouring high sea. In this frame, Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas have been designated by the CBD that include a large part of TAF waters. In 2016, the outcomes of the CROMEBA program (Crozet Marine Ecosystem Based Approach) and a workshop on Kerguelen marine ecosystems informed the spatial conservation planning of the enlarged TAF nature reserve. Scientific inputs allowed designating more than 128 000 km2 of strict protection area (Cat. Ia. IUCN) and identifying priorities for actions for the new management plan. In a context of major knowledge gaps on marine ecosystems, the strengthening of research programs in poorly documented areas, in particular on deep-sea and offshore ecosystems, contribute to the regular update of the management objectives, regulations and protection status of the nature reserve. This work will also contribute to the development of the CCAMLR MPA network in Antarctica and the promotion of the creation of high sea MPAs.

Enabling factors

- A strong involvement of the scientific community with whom the territory and the extension process raised a strong interest

- A favourable political context, with the implementation of the “Biodiversity Law” in France, allowing the development of MPAs in the French EEZ, and the CCAMLR initiatives towards the establishment of an MPA network in the Southern Ocean

- Uninhabited territories, scientists and fishermen being the only users of the nature reserve, which reduces the possible use conflicts

Lesson learned

- Scientific expertise is essential to fill data gaps and deal with uncertainty.

- Ecoregionalization process is a key tool toward building effective spatial conservation planning

- Political support and international conventions are decisive for an MPA implementation

A management plan built with the scientific community to ensure the scientific robustness of the Nature Reserve management

Aware of the vulnerability of the French Southern Lands’ (TAF) ecosystems, the scientific community advocated for their enhanced protection, leading to the creation of the nature reserve in 2006. The first management plan (2011-2015) defined 90 conservation and research actions to be conducted on the territory (mostly terrestrial), of which 35% of applied research actions. The second management plan (2018-2027) applies to the entire EEZ of TAF (mostly marine), in accordance with the extension decree and protection perimeter regulation around the nature reserve. In this context and given the knowledge gap on marine ecosystems, in particular for deep and offshore ecosystems, a whole new set of marine research and conservation actions were identified in close collaboration with scientists. While more than 40% of the actions defined by the management plan address knowledge improvement, 60% of them address specifically marine ecosystems. The extension of the nature reserve and the elaboration of this new management plan create new research dynamics and synergy opportunities for science and conservation actions. New international scientific collaborations are also sought in order to strengthen the socio-ecological network of the TAF.

Enabling factors

- The experience of a first management plan

- Historical partnerships with scientific organizations

- An ecoregionalization process leading to spatial conservation planning and management recommendations

- Innovative science and conservation opportunities arising from setting up one of the largest MPAs in the world.

Lesson learned

- Stakeholders’ involvement in the development of the management plan is essential to ensure the robustness and the ownership of actions to be conducted.

- The prioritization of actions to be conducted in a very large MPA is a complex matter in a context of a territory difficult to access and with limited financial, human and technical resources.


Firstly established to maintain French sovereignty in the French Southern Lands (TAF), the development of innovative research on earth and natural sciences established France as a leader in subantarctic research, informing international policy making on the impacts of global changes on biodiversity.


Since the 1950’s, the results of scientific activities in the TAF outlined the uniqueness and the vulnerability of the territory, leading to the establishment of one of the largest MPA in the world in 2016. The close partnership between science and management allowed the designation of priority zones for conservation, now designated as strict protection zones (Cat. IUCN Ia). Based on the experience of the first management plan of the nature reserve (2011-2015), the 2nd management plan (2018-2027) includes actions to improve knowledge on marine ecosystems, to inform the efficient spatial conservation planning and management strategy of the nature reserve.


As an uninhabited territory, the principal beneficiary is the untouched fauna and flora of TAF which provide essential ecosystem services for the whole planet. Scientists and fishermen, the only users of TAF also benefit from the management model.

Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
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