One section covered in the new Marine Preserve Agreement is breeding ground for the chinstrap penguin. CREDIT: AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko
It took five years, but a plan to protect a broad swath of the Ross Sea from human activity is now reality...
A coalition of 24 countries and the European Union agreed Thursday to a plan to set aside nearly 600,000 square miles of the waters southeast of New Zealand, prohibiting all commercial fishing and restricting other human activity “in order to meet specific conservation, habitat protection, ecosystem monitoring and fisheries management objectives.”
The agreement covers the next 35 years and will protect breeding grounds for whales, seals, penguins, krill, and other species.
The Ross Sea is a large bay off the coast of Antarctica, southeast of New Zealand. CREDIT: Google Earth
“We are incredibly proud to have reached this point,” Andrew Wright, executive secretary of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), said in a statement. “It has been well worth the wait because there is now agreement among all members that this is the right thing to do and they will all work towards the [marine protection area] MPA’s successful implementation.”
Under the MPA, proposed five years ago by the United States and New Zealand, 72 percent of the 600,000 square miles will be a “no-take” zone, prohibiting all fishing. The remaining portion will be open only for scientific research. No mineral extraction will be allowed in the region.
The Ross Sea is considered one of the most pristine ecosystems on Earth. In addition to several species of mammals, it is home to large populations of krill, an important feedstock in the oceanic chain.
“I’m absolutely overjoyed,” Lewis Pugh, UN Patron for the Oceans, told the BBC. “This is the biggest protected area on the land or the sea, this is the first large scale MPA on the high seas, they are largely unprotected.”
Pugh prompted headlines last year with his “Speedo diplomacy.” A former marine attorney, Pugh set records for swimming, sans wetsuit, in the below-freezing waters of the Ross Sea, in an attempt to push Russia, the coalition’s last hold-out on the MPA, to allow the plan to move forward.
Secretary of State John Kerry, too, reportedly pushed the Russians to get on board with the plan, even amidst sensitive talks on a range of other global concerns. Kerry has made ocean protection a cornerstone of his diplomacy, launching the Our Oceans conference in September.
It was at that conference — just a week after expanding the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument into the biggest fully protected ocean park in the world — that President Obama announced the first-ever U.S. Atlantic marine preserve, off the coast of New England.
Obama has expanded or created several marine preserves during his time in office, as the world increasingly recognizes the need to protect marine life.
“In recent years, individual countries like the United Kingdom, Chile, Palau, and the U.S. have engaged in a kind of conservation one-upsmanship, protecting massive areas of their own waters,” explained the Center for American Progress’ Michael Conathan. “In addition to the value of fully protecting arguably the most unspoiled ecosystem on the planet, this agreement sets an invaluable precedent for future international cooperation to safeguard critical ocean resources in other areas of the high seas beyond any one country’s jurisdiction.”
More than 4,900 square miles have been protected.thinkprogress.org
A 2015 World Wildlife Fund study found that marine life diminished by nearly half —49 percent — between 1970 and 2012. Climate change is a significant driver in this decline, as is ocean acidification (caused by pollution) and over-fishing.
Climate Reporter at @ThinkProgress.
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