Rus­sia, China block plans for Antarc­tic re­serve

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS -

A plan to turn a huge tract of pris­tine Antarc­tic ocean into the world’s big­gest sanc­tu­ary has been re­jected, throw­ing the fu­ture of one of the Earth’s most im­por­tant ecosys­tems into doubt. En­vi­ron­men­tal groups say Rus­sia, China and Nor­way played a part in block­ing the pro­posal, with the other 22 mem­bers of the Com­mis­sion for the Con­ser­va­tion of Antarc­tic Ma­rine Liv­ing Re­sources (CCAMLR), the or­gan­i­sa­tion set up to pro­tect Antarc­tic wa­ters, back­ing the pro­posal. The 1.8-mil­lion-square-kilo­me­tre re­serve – five times the size of Ger­many – would have banned all fish­ing in a vast area of the Wed­dell Sea and parts of the Antarc­tic Penin­sula, safe­guard­ing species in­clud­ing pen­guins, orca, leop­ard seals and blue whales. Ex­perts said it would also have played a key role in tack­ling cli­mate change, as the seas around the Antarc­tic soak up huge amounts of car­bon diox­ide from the at­mos­phere. But af­ter days of talks in Ho­bart, the CCAMLR re­jected the plan, which needed unan­i­mous agree­ment to pass. En­vi­ron­men­tal groups, which had mo­bilised 2 mil­lion peo­ple in sup­port of the plan, re­acted with dis­may. ‘‘This was a his­toric op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate the largest pro­tected area on Earth in the Antarc­tic: safe­guard­ing wildlife, tack­ling cli­mate change and im­prov­ing the health of our global oceans,’’ said Frida Bengts­son of Green­peace’s Pro­tect the Antarc­tic cam­paign. ‘‘Se­ri­ous sci­en­tific pro­pos­als for ur­gent ma­rine pro­tec­tion were de­railed by in­ter­ven­tions which barely en­gaged with the sci­ence.’’ She said that rather than putting for­ward ‘‘rea­soned op­po­si­tion on sci­en­tific grounds, some del­e­ga­tions, like China and Rus­sia, in­stead de­ployed de­lay­ing tac­tics, such as wreck­ing amend­ments and fil­i­bus­ter­ing, which meant there was barely any time left for real dis­cus­sion about pro­tect­ing Antarc­tic wa­ters’’. CCAMLR did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment but a re­port on its web­site said there had been ‘‘much dis­cus­sion’’ around plans for new ocean sanc­tu­ar­ies. ‘‘Mem­bers will con­tinue to work in­ter­s­es­sion­ally on pro­pos­als for th­ese be­fore they are again con­sid­ered at next year’s meet­ing.’’ The fail­ure to cre­ate new pro­tected zones in the Antarc­tic Ocean comes amid in­creas­ing ev­i­dence of hu­mans’ dev­as­tat­ing im­pact. This week, lead­ing sci­en­tists warned that peo­ple have wiped out 60 per cent of wild an­i­mal pop­u­la­tions since 1970, with po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences for the fu­ture of hu­man­ity. Green­peace said CCAMLR had failed in its re­mit to pro­tect the Antarc­tic wa­ters. ‘‘We’re run­ning out of time, and sci­en­tists are clear that we need to cre­ate ma­rine sanc­tu­ar­ies across at least 30 per cent of our oceans by 2030, to pro­tect wildlife, en­sure food se­cu­rity for bil­lions and help to tackle cli­mate change,’’ Bengts­son said. She said that al­though the sci­en­tific ev­i­dence was clear, ‘‘diplo­matic ef­forts seem to be more con­cerned with ex­pand­ing fisheries than with con­ser­va­tion’’. This meant it was more ur­gent than ever for the pub­lic to join the fight, she said. ‘‘If bod­ies like the Antarc­tic Ocean Com­mis­sion con­tinue to fail in their man­date to con­serve the ocean, they’re clearly un­fit for pur­pose and aren’t part of the so­lu­tion. In­stead, we must look to the his­toric ne­go­ti­a­tions tak­ing place at the UN to­wards a Global Ocean Treaty.’’

DR REGINA EISERT/AN­THONY POW­ELL

A plan to cre­ate the world’s big­gest sanc­tu­ary in Antarc­tica, safe­guard­ing wildlife habitat and help­ing to tackle cli­mate change, has been re­jected by the or­gan­i­sa­tion set up to pro­tect Antarc­tic wa­ters.

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