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World’s largest marine pro­tected area declared in Antarctica’s Ross Sea

pub­lished 29 Octo­ber 2016 | mod­i­fied 29 Octo­ber 2016

Ross sea and Antarctic seasThe world’s experts on Antarc­tic marine con­ser­va­tion have agreed to estab­lish a marine pro­tected area (MPA) in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.

This week at the Meet­ing of the Com­mis­sion for the Con­ser­va­tion of Antarc­tic Marine Liv­ing Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart, Aus­tralia, all Mem­ber coun­tries have agreed to a joint USA/​New Zealand pro­posal to estab­lish a 1.55 mil­lion km2 area of the Ross Sea with spe­cial pro­tec­tion from human activ­i­ties. The new MPA — an area the size of France, Ger­many and Spain com­bined — comprises:

  • 1,117,000 km2 of fully pro­tected marine reserve:

    • the Ross Sea shelf and slope and the Bal­leny Islands — see (i) below

    • Rep­re­sen­ta­tive pro­tec­tion of areas that pro­vide good sam­ples of spe­cial habi­tats — this includes a seamount (under­wa­ter moun­tain) range — see (ii)

    • Scott Seamount — see (iii);

  • a 110,000 km2 spe­cial research zone (SRZ) allow­ing for lim­ited research fish­ing for krill and tooth­fish, and;

  • a 322,000 km2 krill research zone (KRZ) allow­ing for con­trolled research fish­ing for krill.

The Ross Sea, marine protected areaThe marine pro­tected area (MPA) in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.
Image source: New Zealand Min­istry for For­eign Affairs & Trade.

The Ross Sea
The Ross Sea is a deep bay of the South­ern Ocean in Antarc­tica, between Vic­to­ria Land and Marie Byrd Land. It derives its name from the British explorer James Ross who vis­ited this area in 1841. To the west of the sea lies Ross Island and to the east Roo­sevelt Island, while the south­ern­most part is cov­ered by the Ross Ice Shelf, and is about 200 miles (320 km) from the South Pole.

It is one of the last stretches of seas on Earth that remains rel­a­tively unaf­fected by human activ­i­ties. Because of this, it remains almost totally free from pol­lu­tion and the intro­duc­tion of inva­sive species. Con­se­quently, the Ross Sea has become a focus of numer­ous envi­ron­men­tal­ist groups who have cam­paigned to make the area a world marine reserve, cit­ing the rare oppor­tu­nity to pro­tect the Ross Sea from a grow­ing num­ber of threats and destruc­tion. The Ross Sea is regarded by marine biol­o­gists as hav­ing a very high bio­log­i­cal diver­sity and as such has a long his­tory of human explo­ration and sci­en­tific research, with some datasets going back over 150 years.

The Ross Sea is home to at least 10 mam­mal species, half a dozen species of birds, 95 species of fish, and over 1,000 inver­te­brate species. Some species of birds that nest in and near the Ross Sea include the Adélie pen­guin, emperor pen­guin, Antarc­tic petrel, snow petrel, and south polar skua. Marine mam­mals in the Ross Sea include the Antarc­tic minke whale, killer whale, Wed­dell seal, crabeater seal, and leop­ard seal. Antarc­tic tooth­fish, Antarc­tic sil­ver­fish, Antarc­tic krill, and crys­tal krill also swim in the cold Antarc­tic water of the Ross Sea.

The flora and fauna are con­sid­ered sim­i­lar to other south­ern Antarc­tic marine regions. Par­tic­u­larly in Sum­mer, the nutrient-​rich sea water sup­ports an abun­dant plank­tonic life in turn pro­vid­ing food for larger species, such as fish, seals, whales, and sea– and shore-​birds.


The Ross Sea by John Weller:

(Source: johnb­weller YouTube channel)

This new MPA, to come into force in Decem­ber 2017, will limit, or entirely pro­hibit, cer­tain activ­i­ties in order to meet spe­cific con­ser­va­tion, habi­tat pro­tec­tion, ecosys­tem mon­i­tor­ing and fish­eries man­age­ment objec­tives. Seventy-​two per­cent of the MPA will be a ‘no-​take’ zone, which for­bids all fish­ing, while other sec­tions will per­mit some har­vest­ing of fish and krill for sci­en­tific research.

While this is undoubt­edly good news, the agree­ment on the Ross Sea will expire in 35 years. Accord­ing to the World Con­ser­va­tion Union (IUCN) guide­lines, marine pro­tected areas must be per­ma­nent. WWF has con­cerns that the Ross Sea agree­ment does not meet this stan­dard,” said Chris John­son, WWF-​Australia Ocean Sci­ence Man­ager. In com­ing years, WWF will con­tinue to push for the Ross Sea to become a marine pro­tected area (MPA), pro­tected in perpetuity.

CCAMLR Exec­u­tive Sec­re­tary, Andrew Wright, is excited by this achieve­ment and acknowl­edges that the deci­sion has been sev­eral years in the making.

This deci­sion rep­re­sents an almost unprece­dented level of inter­na­tional coop­er­a­tion regard­ing a large marine ecosys­tem com­pris­ing impor­tant ben­thic and pelagic habitats
Andrew Wright, CCAMLR Exec­u­tive Secretary »

This has been an incred­i­bly com­plex nego­ti­a­tion which has required a num­ber of Mem­ber coun­tries bring­ing their hopes and con­cerns to the table at six annual CCAMLR meet­ings as well as at inter­s­es­sional work­shops.
A num­ber of details regard­ing the MPA are yet to be finalised but the estab­lish­ment of the pro­tected zone is in no doubt and we are incred­i­bly proud to have reached this point,” said Mr Wright.

CCAMLR’s Sci­en­tific Com­mit­tee first endorsed the sci­en­tific basis for pro­pos­als for the Ross Sea region put for­ward by the USA and New Zealand in 2011. It invited the Com­mis­sion to con­sider the pro­pos­als and pro­vide guid­ance on how they could be pro­gressed. Each year from 2012 to 2015 the pro­posal was refined in terms of the sci­en­tific data to sup­port the pro­posal as well as the spe­cific details such as exact loca­tion of the bound­aries of the MPA. Details of imple­men­ta­tion of the MPA will be nego­ti­ated through the devel­op­ment of a spe­cific mon­i­tor­ing and assess­ment plan. The del­e­ga­tions of New Zealand and the USA will facil­i­tate this process.

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 MPA’s suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion,” Andrew Wright said.

Marine Pro­tected Areas
MPAs aim to pro­vide pro­tec­tion to marine species, bio­di­ver­sity, habi­tat, for­ag­ing and nurs­ery areas, as well as to pre­serve his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural sites. MPAs can assist in rebuild­ing fish stocks, sup­port­ing ecosys­tem processes, mon­i­tor­ing ecosys­tem change and sus­tain­ing bio­log­i­cal diver­sity.
Areas closed to fish­ing, or in which fish­ing activ­i­ties are restricted, can be used by sci­en­tists to com­pare with areas that are open to fish­ing. This enables sci­en­tists to research the rel­a­tive impacts of fish­ing and other changes, such as those aris­ing from cli­mate change. This can help our under­stand­ing of the range of vari­ables affect­ing the over­all sta­tus and health of marine ecosystems.

(Source: CCAMLR media release, 28.10.2016; WWF-​global news release, 28.10.2016; New Zealand For­eign Affairs & Trade web­site)

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