A massive area in the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica will be protected for at least the next 35 years following a landmark agreement between 24 countries and the European Union at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) on Hobart, Tasmania, Australia on Friday, 28 October.
The commission, which operates by the unanimous consent of its 25 members, which include the United States, the European Union, Russia, China, Japan and other countries with economic interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, agreed to create a 598,000-square-mile (1.55 million-square-kilometer) marine protected area, prohibiting large-scale commercial fishing in much of it.
“In addition to its tremendous conservation value, the Ross Sea MPA is designed to be a natural laboratory for valuable scientific research to increase our understanding of the impact of climate change and fishing on the ocean and its resources,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a U.S. State Department press release. “A key focus of the new MPA will be improving collaborative marine research by CCAMLR members, which will benefit people all over the world. The creation of the Ross Sea MPA is an extraordinary step forward for marine protection, and the United States is grateful for the cooperation with our New Zealand co-sponsors of the proposal, and of all CCAMLR members, including Russia, to make this achievement possible.”
The proposal for the MPA had been made at previous CCAMLR meetings, but was held up by China and Russia. China dropped its opposition at last year’s meeting, and Russia, in its final year a two-year rotation as chair of the commission, agreed to the MPA this year. The final compromise on the MPA shortened its lifespan from 50 to 35 years, but with the option of extending or renewing the agreement when it expires.
“Today, CCAMLR made history by declaring the planet’s largest marine protected area in the Ross Sea,” Andrea Kavanagh, the director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean work for the Pew Charitable Trusts, told the Guardian. “This landmark decision represents the first time that nations have agreed to protect a huge area of the ocean that lies beyond the jurisdiction of any individual country and shows that CCAMLR takes its role as protector of Antarctic waters seriously.”
The protections won’t decrease the total allowable catch of fish – primarily toothfish and krill – that are allowed to be caught in the Ross Sea, but it will move the industry away from delicate habitats of penguins, orcas and other animals that spend most of their time close to the Antarctic mainland, according to the Guardian.
The agreement also creates a 322,000-square-kilomoter “krill research zone” that permits krill fishing but prohibits toothfish catching, as well as a 110,000-square-kilomoter “special research zone” allowing catching of krill and toothfish only for research purposes, the Guardian reported.