Ross Sea: Antarctic Marine Protection Celebrated
“The decision of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CCAMLR, in Hobart, to create large no-take marine protected areas in the Ross Sea,and some areas of strictly limited fishing, is huge, literally and figuratively. The Ross Sea MPA will give varying measures of protection to 1.55 million km2 of the Ross Sea in the Southern Ocean which is around Antarctica," says Cath Wallace, of the Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ, ECO.
“Though not all of the Ross Sea is protected, 1.12 million square kilometres are no-take reserves.
"The Ross Sea was identified by a major scientific study as the least modified marine ecosystem on earth. It is clearly the most important to protect. Penguins and other seabirds, killer whales, seals, many kinds of fish but particularly tooth fish and the fantastic corals, starfish, krill and bivalves, and other astonishing sea creatures that live in the Ross Sea, will all stand a much greater chance of surviving and functioning as an intact ecosystem with this decision.
"It is time to celebrate the combined efforts of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, and their member organisations and supporters, and the scientists, officials, politicians and diplomats for achieving a major conservation success with protection or safeguarding chunks of the Ross Sea in Antarctica", says Wallace.
Minister Murray McCully, New Zealand’s diplomatic team led by Jillian Dempster, the science teams and conservation groups including ECO, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, (ASOC), the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, and members and supporters should all take a bow. So should movie maker, Peter Young, of Fisheye Films, who made the Last Ocean movie which raised awareness immensely. This result is a joint effort. An essential ingredient was sustained public pressure and the tenacious work of non-governmental organisations who launched the idea, including ECO. There have been years of effort and careful diplomacy by New Zealand and the USA to achieve the result.
"The success is substantial but is not everything that is needed. Opposition from some countries and fishing industry interests in several countries blocked full protection for the whole Ross Sea. We are still working to establish protected areas in another 18 areas in the Southern Ocean. Proposals from Australia and Germany for protection of East Antarctic areas and the Weddell Sea, respectively, have not yet been approved and need urgent attention.
"On the Ross Sea, concessions had to be made, but we can build more conservation around what we have, as people understand better that more protection is needed. We would have preferred that the protection is permanent - but pressure from two resource-hungry nations prevented that. But good on them for agreeing to the protection gained. It is disappointing that so-called “research fishing” has been allowed and that the northern tooth fish spawning banks and the eastern areas of the Ross Sea are not better protected, says Wallace.
ECO’s Barry Weeber was at the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meeting that achieved this result, and he has worked for years for this result as have many others.
At last, a substantial gain for the Antarctic marine environment, we can celebrate this, says Wallace.