The paper examines the process and context of international efforts to designate Marine Protected Areas (mpas) in the Southern Ocean. The relationship between the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (camlr Convention) and the Madrid Protocol is examined in relation to legal, political and administrative norms and practices. A contextual overview of the Antarctic mpa system is considered, followed by an analysis of the overlapping competencies of the camlr Commission (ccamlr) and the Madrid Protocol. The Antarctic mpa debate is placed in a wider international legal context of the management of global oceans space in areas beyond national jurisdiction. We provide an analysis of the politico-legal discourse and point to complicating factors within, and external to, the Antarctic system. The concluding section suggests options for breathing new life into the Southern Ocean mpa discourse.