World’s largest marine protected area declared in Antarctica
Delegates from 24 countries and the European Union have agreed that the Ross Sea in Antarctica will become the world’s largest marine protected area (MPA).
Some 1.57m sq km (600,000 sq miles) of the Southern Ocean will gain protection from commercial fishing for 35 years.
Environmentalists have welcomed the move to protect what’s said to be the Earth’s most pristine marine ecosystem.
They hope it will be the first of many such zones in international waters.
At this meeting in Hobart, Australia, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) agreed unanimously to designate the Ross Sea as an MPA, after years of protracted negotiations, New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully announced.
The Ross Sea, its shelf and slope only comprise 2% of the Southern Ocean but they are home to 38% of the world’s Adelie penguins, 30% of the world’s Antarctic petrels and around 6% of the world’s population of Antarctic minke whales.
The region is important to the rest of the planet as the upwelling of nutrients from the deep waters are carried on currents around the world.
The Ross Sea is also home to huge numbers of krill, a staple food for species including whales and seals. Their oil is critical for salmon farming. However there are concerns that overfishing and climate change are having significant impacts on their numbers.
touched by humans and as such is a perfect laboratory
The proposal, introduced by New Zealand and the US, and accepted by all the other nations, will see a general protection “notake” zone where nothing can be removed including marine life and minerals.
As part of the compromise that emerged in negotiations, there will be special zones where fishing from krill and toothfish will be allowed for research purposes.
“I’m absolutely overjoyed,” said Lewis Pugh, the UN Patron for the Oceans, and someone who has campaigned for years in support of this new MPA.
“This is the biggest protected area on the land or the sea, this is the first large scale MPA on the high seas, they are largely unprotected.”
The ocean advocate and swimmer drew attention to the Ross Sea with a series of swims in the icy waters - and for two years he has engaged in a series of meetings, dubbed “speedo diplomacy” with Russian officials to convince them of the value of the MPA.