Coast of Antarctica will host world’s largest marine reserve

The world’s biggest marine reserve, almost as large as Alaska, will be established in the Ross Sea in Antarctica under an agreement reached by representatives of 24 nations and the European Union in Australia on Friday.

The policy makers and scientists agreed unanimously to create a zone that will encompass 600,000 square miles (965.600 km²) of ocean. Commercial fishing will be banned from the entire area, but 28 percent of it will be designated as research zones, where scientists can catch limited amounts of fish and krill, tiny invertebrates that provide food for whales, penguins, seals and other animals.

The area, which is mostly contiguous and hugs the coast off the Ross Sea ice shelf, will come under protection on Dec. 1, 2017, and remain a reserve for 35 years. The agreement was reached in Hobart, Tasmania, at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

This is a major step in marine conservation not just for the Antarctic but internationally,” said Evan Bloom, head of the United States delegation.

Part of it is the size, but the significance of this is that most of the marine protected area is a no-take area, and that involved 25 countries and complex, long-term environmental negotiations. It is one of the biggest steps for the international community,” Mr. Bloom, a director of the State Department’s Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs, said in a telephone interview from Hobart.

Protecting the Ross Sea, in the Southern Ocean, had been on the commission’s agenda for around six years, and conservationists had been arguing for a no-fishing zone there for a decade, said Andrea Kavanagh, a director of the Southern Oceans Sanctuaries Campaign at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington.

Delegates from the United States and New Zealand first proposed the reserve, but the plan could not go forward without the approval of Russia, which was secured on Friday.

Russia had blocked the creation of a reserve, which required unanimous consent, at last year’s meeting. But developments since then — including Moscow’s appointment of a government adviser on the environment and the expansion of a Russian national park in the Arctic to include the world’s northernmost island chain — had raised hopes that this year would be different, Ms. Kavanagh said.

With Russia, there were signs that things were moving ahead,” she said from Hobart.

Although the commission did not reduce the total tonnage of fish that can be taken from the Ross Sea, vessels have been pushed into areas further out to sea and away from ecologically significant sites that include breeding and feeding grounds for whales, large fish, penguins and other sea birds.

This is a great result for quiet diplomacy and honest toil,” New Zealand’s foreign minister, Murray McCully, said from Auckland. “The fact that an agreement like this can be reached with the Russians, when there are so many difficulties, so many other political differences happening elsewhere. It is pleasing this can be isolated and agreed.

The reserve includes the Ross Sea shelf and slope, the Balleny Islands and the ocean around two seamounts, one known as the Scott seamount. Seamounts, or underwater mountains, are habitats and foraging areas for mammals, birds and fish, including Weddell seals, killer whales and emperor penguins.

[Via: nytimes.com/Michelle Innis]

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