October 29, 2016 by polrec
World’s biggest marine reserve created in Antarctica as Russia drops objections
The creation of a new international marine reserve in the Ross Sea was made possible after Russia dropped objections following lobbying from New Zealand.
The 25 member group that governs the Antarctic agreed to the creation of the Ross Sea Marina Protected Area at a meeting in Hobart, Tasmania, on Friday, in what the World Wildlife Fund called a “turning point” in Antarctic conservation.
“It is home to one third of the world’s Adélie penguins, one quarter of all emperor penguins, one third of all Antarctic petrels, and over half of all South Pacific Weddell seals,” said Chris Johnson, WWF-Australia Ocean Science Manager.
“This is important not just for the incredible diversity of life that it will protect, but also for the contribution it makes to building the resilience of the world’s ocean in the face of climate change,” he said.
Covering 617,000 square miles square miles, an area roughly equivalent to France, Spain, and Germany combined, the Ross Sea reserve will be the largest in the world.
Seventy per cent of the area will be a fully protected “no take” zone, where all fishing is entirely banned. Limited fishing for tooth fish or krill will be allowed in the rest of the area.
The breakthrough followed six years of diplomatic wrangling at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which includes 24 countries plus the European Union. All decisions have to be unanimous.
The plan was initially put forward by New Zealand and the United States in 2012, but was opposed by China, Russia, and Ukraine, who were concerned about their fishing industries.
The deal was rejected five times before Friday’s agreement, which came together only after Russia, the last holdout, dropped its objections.
Murray McCully, the New Zealand foreign minister, said the final deal involved concessions to Russia including alterations to the boundaries of the reserve and increased fishing quota outside the no-take zone.
Dmitry Kremenyuk, the head of the Russian delegation, said another important concession was the reduction of the time limit of agreement from 50 years to 35 years.
“We, China and Japan, still have some concerns. Nevertheless, striving to cooperate, the participants were able to agree on the question of conservation in the Ross Sea,” he said.
Mr McCully, who flew to Moscow in August to lobby Sergey Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, said the breakthrough demonstrated progress could be made despite the worst diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West in decades.
“It goes to demonstrate that you can never jump to conclusions,” Mr McCully said after Friday’s agreement. “Every now and then you get lucky.”
However, conservationists have expressed concern at the 35 year time limit, which they say could undermine the essential point of the reserve.
Campaigners believe the reserve should be protected in perpetuity in order to sustain marine life in the face of over fishing and a changing climate.