New Alliance launches report calling for 3.6 million sq km marine reserve

08 Mar 2012

Forest and Bird has joined a new coalition of environmental groups and notable people which aims to protect the biodiversity in the oceans surrounding Antarctica through a network of marine reserves.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) released its first report this week, titled "Antarctic Ocean Legacy: A Marine Reserve for the Ross Sea" at a reception of Parliamentarians and guests in Wellington.

The report outlines the proposal and rationale for creating a fully protected marine reserve covering 3.6 million square kilometres of the Ross Sea in Northern Antarctica, 3000km South of New Zealand.

Sixteen environmental organisations have backed the proposal, including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Also in support of the Alliance are notable celebrities such as actor and UN Biodiversity Ambassador Edward Norton and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

The proposed reserve will prevent any fishing and industrial activity in a network of 19 no-take marine reserves that will protect key ecological areas and landforms such as rare seamounts and important breeding habitats for toothfish.

As the numbers of fish in the world's oceans decline due to overfishing, more and more fishing vessels are travelling to remote areas such as Antarctica’s Southern Ocean to meet their quota.

The Antarctic oceans make up almost 10% of the world's waters, and are some of the most untouched on earth.

Almost 10,000 unique and diverse species live in the waters surrounding Antarctica, but now face risks of commercial fishing and climate change.

Forest and Bird believes that given New Zealand's historic relationship with the Antarctic, we as New Zealanders have an obligation to play a role in protecting these virtually pristine oceans.

Along with the report, the AOA has released a global "Join the Watch" campaign, which uses video and social media to rally support for this network of marine reserves.

"You can't solve a problem if you don't know you've got one" states oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle. 
The regulatory body responsible for the Ross Sea - the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR) - has agreed to create protected areas in the Ross Sea, but the AOA argues that a larger protected area is needed.

The CCAMLR has very limited public participation and no media access and the AOA believes that without sufficient public attention during the process of creating these protected areas, only minimal protection will be achieved.

Public awareness is therefore key to gaining support for the Ross Sea reserve.

"The fate of Antarctica’s oceans is to be decided on by 24 countries and the EU this year and the global public knows nothing about it" says Alliance Campaign Director Steve Campbell.

"Now is the time to protect this amazing environment, and we'll need the global public involved to make that happen."

The Join the Watch campaign aims to inform the public about the proposed reserve, and to involve them in putting pressure on the governments of the 24 countries included in the Antarctic Treaty.

Through use of social media and a global petition it is hoped that the public will encourage these governments to support the Ross Sea reserve proposal.

The decision will then be made at the CCAMLR's annual meeting in Hobart in November, which will include government officials from all 24 countries, as well as representatives from the UN and other countries with significant fishing industries.

New Zealand was one of the first countries to gain access to the Antarctic ocean, and now we need to lead the charge to protect it.

You can help. Take part in the Join the Watch Campaign today. Sign the Antarctic Ocean Alliance pledge now.