Antartica is a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”, according to the Antarctic Treaty System. This complex set of agreements collectively takes a firm stance on conservation, exemplified by the Convention on the Conservation of Marine Living Resources. Adopted in 1980, this convention was negotiated rapidly in response to expanding trawling of Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). Krill are at the base of the region’s marine food web, so there were worries that a dearth of the small crustaceans would threaten the whole ecosystem, especially whales.

The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, adopted under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity, provides the basis for taking effective action to curb biodiversity loss across the planet by 2020—an urgent imperative. Yet, Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, which encompass 10% of the planet’s surface, are excluded from assessments of progress against the Strategic Plan. The situation is a lost opportunity for biodiversity conservation globally. We provide such an assessment.