The Ross Sea becomes the world’s largest Marine Protected Area

Photo credit: WWF

Photo credit: WWF

Last week, the largest marine protected area in the world was created in the Ross Sea, off the coast of Antarctica.

For years, conservationists have been pushing for better protection of the Ross Sea which contains some of the most pristine and species-rich marine ecosystems in the world, making it an ideal location to study how marine ecosystems function and to understand climate change impacts on the ocean.

The Southern Ocean in general is covered by an agreement through the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). It is made up of 24 countries and the European Union responsible for overseeing conservation and sustainable exploitation of marine life.

Delegates from New Zealand and the United States first proposed the reserve in 2011, but over the past few years there have been failed negotiations with China and Russia after concerns over access to fishing. The negotiations have been complicated because the proposed protected area has no ownership and so all nations had to come on board with the agreement. Last year, just after the annual meeting of the CCAMLR, the Antarctic sanctuary came one step closer with China offering its support.

In a meeting last week at the CCAMLR, a unanimous decision was made by all 24 countries and the European Union to create the 598,000 square-mile marine protected area after Russia finally dropped its long-held opposition.

The New Zealand-United States proposal required some changes to secure the unanimous support of all member countries. The final agreement covered a smaller area, but all of the marine protected area boundaries remained unchanged.

The waters within the Ross Sea sanctuary will now be protected under international law. The treaty will go into effect in December 2017 and last for 35 years, banning commercial fishing and mining across the entire area while some fishing will be allowed in certain areas designated for research.

This agreement marks the first of an onset of marine protected areas in the Antarctic. In 2051, the Ross Sea sanctuary will up for renewal. Hopefully there will be no hesitation the next time around.

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Lucy Grable

Lucy Grable

MSc Species Identification and Survey Skills student at Reading Uni | BSc Marine Zoology | Website Editor MARINElife | Zanzibar humpback whale researcher|Marine wildlife enthusiast

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