After five years of compromises and failed negotiations, a landmark international agreement has been brokered between 24 countries and the European Union to create the world’s largest marine park in The Ross Sea, a deep bay in the Southern Ocean.
More than 1.5m sq km of the Ross Sea around Antarctica will be protected, and roughly 1.1m sq km of it will be set aside as a no-take “general protection zone”, where no fishing will be allowed.
This agreement came at the conclusion of two weeks discussions at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
This historic act of protection has been commended by WWF and the Arctic Ocean Alliance due to the significance of the Southern Ocean.
The Southern Ocean is home to most of the world’s penguins and whales, and estimated to produce around three-quarters of the nutrients that sustain life in the rest of the world’s oceans. Additionally, many scientists consider The Ross Sea to be the last intact marine ecosystem on Earth, which makes it ideally suited for investigating life in the Antarctic and how climate change is affecting the planet.
Although the protections will not decrease the total amount of fish that are allowed to be caught in the area, they will importantly, move the industry away from the most crucial habitats close to the continent itself and in doing so protect the diversity of life there. For example, under the new deal Russia will have to push its industry of catching Antarctic toothfish into waters where they will catch fewer immature fish, and will not compete with as many orcas, who also rely on toothfish for food.
Moreover, this is the first marine park created in international waters and sets a precedent for further moves to help the world achieve the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s recommendation that 30% of the world’s oceans are protected.
The current protections are set to expire in 35 years. Whether this short amount of time will be enough to make an impact to the area is to be seen, but it’s a step in the right direction.