World’s largest ma­rine pro­tected area de­clared in Antarc­tica

Malta Independent - - SCIENCE -

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.

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