In February 2015, the Antarctic Wildlife Research Fund was unveiled at a ceremony in Australia with King Harald V, Queen Sonja of Norway, and several leaders and ministers from Norway and Australia.
“The fund’s mission is to ensure a resilient Antarctica through filling critical gaps in ecosystem research and monitoring,” says Sigve Nordrum from Aker Biomarine.
However, it took fund partners many years to form a plan for the AWR. This journey started already in 2006 when Aker Biomarine began their collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund Norway. For many years, they have exchanged views and expertise on sustainable solutions for krill fisheries.
Through WWF’s network and Head of Research Karoline Andaur, Sigve Nordrum from Aker Biomarine got acquainted with many scientists and NGOs working in this sector. One of them was biologist Rodolfo Werner, who in the last 15 years has been focusing more on the policy aspects of Antarctic conservation.
“I love science, but I did not want to spend my life sitting in the lab or focusing my work on computer models. I wanted to do something else, something more applied. Thus, by putting my experience in practice on both fields, I became a bridge between scientists and policymakers,” says Werner.
Through the years their informal talks were often about the need for more knowledge and increased monitoring of the Antarctic wildlife. “It took us many years since our first conversation on this matter until we started talking more specifically about investing money in research projects in the Antarctic Peninsula,” says Werner.
The idea materialized in the form of a fund that was established in 2015 by Aker BioMarine, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) and WWF-Norway. The first commercial commitment was made to AWR by Aker BioMarine in the form of 500,000 USD. Several of their partners, such as Blackmores, Swisse and BioMar, have contributed with the donations.
“We came up with an idea of creating an organization aimed at obtaining and administering funds to support the research needed for the management of the krill fishery. What kind of research was really needed was our next question.”
Krill is a vital element of the Antarctic food web. Every single species in Antarctica is dependent on krill in some way. However, Nordrum clarifies that they focus on the projects that will help to understand not only the Antarctic krill but also the whole marine ecosystem in the Antarctic Peninsula.
Werner says that as part of establishing AWR, they decided to create a Science Advisory Group, and include leading scientists from several nations participating in the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). “We chose scientists that were deeply involved in Antarctic research and that were aware of the CCAMLR scientific needs.”
One of the first steps was to come up with a Scientific Research Plan and to priorities to guide a selection of research projects. The technical groups of the CCAMLR identified the research needs.
“At one point, some scientists were not sure if it was a good idea to create a funding mechanism for Antarctic research which was not a part of CCAMLR. We argued that the science plan for AWR is based on the needs of the Convention, and by keeping it as an independent organization, we were freeing ourselves from the institutional bureaucracy that is associated to the Convention”. “As a non governmental entity, we have greater independency and flexibility in choosing and funding projects,” says Werner.
The board of the AWR is made of five people. “Two people are representing Aker Biomarine, and three people are NGO representatives, one from WWF and two from ASOC,” says Nordrum.
The industry does not have the majority of the board, which helps to secure the independence of the organization from the industry’s fishing interests. “Members of the Board and the Science Advisory Board do not receive any financial compensation for their AWR work. They only get the travel expenses covered for the annual meetings,” says Werner.
In November 2017, they opened up for the third round of research proposals. AWR has a multi-step process to ensure that the best proposals are chosen. “The Science Advisory Group reviews all proposals anonymously and makes recommendations and scores the projects based on their relevance, quality, fit to scheme, etc. Following these recommendations, the AWR board takes the final decision,” says Nordrum.
Recently, Aker Biomarine announced they would provide AWR with 200,000 USD annually which secures the fund’s economic stability. “Having said this, AWR is always interested in receiving some additional funds from sponsors and contributors, ” says Werner.