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BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild January -

mperor pen­guins rock­et­ing out of the wa­ter, pods of or­cas ‘spy­hop­ping’ through gaps in ice floes… you will al­most cer­tainly have gazed at the wildlife trea­sures of the Ross Sea even if you might have trou­ble find­ing it on a map. It’s a favourite lo­ca­tion for the BBC’s Nat­u­ral His­tory Unit, though is so re­mote that only two com­mer­cial com­pa­nies of­fer trips here.

Lo­cated 1,300km from the South Pole on the op­po­site side of the ‘White Con­ti­nent’ to the more fa­mil­iar Antarc­tic Penin­sula where most tourist ves­sels head, this far­away body of wa­ter is a glit­ter­ing world of sea and ice, stud­ded with mas­sive ice­bergs and ice-cliffs. Yet what re­ally sets the ecosys­tem apart is that it is rel­a­tively in­tact: most of the top preda­tors – var­i­ous whales, seals and pen­guins – haven’t been hunted, and stocks of fish and krill are healthy, too.

About 240,000 em­peror pen­guins – over a quar­ter of the world’s to­tal – live in the Ross Sea. It also hosts huge num­bers of Adélie pen­guins, Wed­dell seals and Type C or­cas, a form that is found nowhere else.

But har­vest­ing of Antarc­tic tooth­fish (a poorly known, slow­grow­ing species mar­keted as ‘sea bass’) threat­ens to en­croach on this un­touched wilder­ness, so for the past five years con­ser­va­tion­ists have fought hard to get most of the sea de­clared a marine sanc­tu­ary.

Much geopo­lit­i­cal wran­gling has en­sued, with Rus­sia and (at least un­til 2015) China prov­ing es­pe­cially re­luc­tant to sign up to the in­ter­na­tional pro­pos­als. Hope is not lost, how­ever, be­cause Rus­sian ne­go­tia­tors have fi­nally agreed to dis­cuss the lat­est plan. So with luck 2016 may see the cre­ation of a Ross Sea re­serve and this bi­o­log­i­cally rich re­gion will sur­vive as a near-flaw­less liv­ing lab­o­ra­tory. Rob, a pol­icy man­ager at Whale and Dol­phin Con­ser­va­tion, spoke to our fea­tures editor Ben Hoare.

IT’S A GLIT­TER­ING WORLD OF SEA AND ICE, STUD­DED WITH ICE­BERGS AND ICE-CLIFFS”

Learn more at www.whales.org and www.las­to­cean.org

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