Ross sea refuge on ice

An Antarctic meeting last year failed to agree on a vast Ross Sea marine reserve. But the United States and New Zealand have a new proposal and there is hope for agreement this year.

By Geoff Keey

New Zealand and the United States ended two years of competing marine reserve proposals for the Ross Sea region in Antarctica by agreeing to a joint proposal at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources’ (CCAMLR) annual
meeting in Hobart in late October.

Early in the meeting delegates from a range of countries urged New Zealand and the US to come to agreement on a joint marine reserve proposal for the Ross Sea region so
progress could be made. The New Zealand government had previously rejected a joint approach with the US.

Unfortunately, the joint proposal came too late in the negotiations and, with major disagreement between countries over marine reserves, the meeting failed to
deliver on its promise to create a network of marine reserves or marine protected areas (MPAs) in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean.

The New Zealand-US joint proposal has three zones.

The core of the proposal is a 1.6 million square kilometre marine reserve that protects some of the areas sought by the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA), of which Forest & Bird
is a member.

In the north of the Ross Sea region, both countries are proposing to create a spawning protection zone that would protect Antarctic toothfish spawning grounds, but only in
winter when no one goes fishing.

Antarctic toothfish are believed to spawn in winter though no one has seen a
spawning toothfish. In the south of the Ross Sea region both countries
agreed on a special fi shing zone where “light fishing” would be allowed. It appears this would allow New Zealand to undertake commercial fishing inside the marine reserve
under the guise of research.

This was a compromise between the US, which wanted to protect the zone,
and New Zealand, which wanted to fish it.

Once it became clear that no agreement could be reached at last year’s meeting on marine protected areas, CCAMLR agreed to hold a special meeting in July in Germany to consider the East Antarctica and Ross Sea marine reserve proposals.

This is only the second time CCAMLR will have met outside its annual
October meeting in Hobart.

“The world has been watching CCAMLR this year to ensure it would deliver on its commitment to establish significant Antarctic marine protection, but all delegates have achieved is an agreement to meet in eight months,” said the AOA’s Steve Campbell. “CCAMLR
members failed to establish any large-scale Antarctic marine protection at this meeting because a number of countries actively blocked conservation efforts.”

Steve said the US, European Union, France, Australia, New Zealand and others worked hard over the two-week meeting to propose a workable way forward. “All member
nations must now take responsibility for ensuring this international body delivers on its commitment to establish a network of MPAs and no-take reserves in the Southern
Ocean, albeit later than its promise to do so in 2012.”

CCAMLR, made up of 24 countries and the European Union, has been considering proposals for two critical areas in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, including 1.6 million square kilometres of protection for the Ross Sea, the world’s most intact marine ecosystem, and 1.9 million square kilometres of coastal area in the East Antarctic.

The AOA’s research has identified more than 40 per cent of the Southern Ocean that warrants protection in a network of large-scale marine reserves and MPAs based on conservation and planning analyses, and including additional key environmental habitats.

Public support for Antarctic marine protection has grown significantly over the past year, with more than 30 international environmental organisations convening and amassing more than 1.2 million calls for large-scale protection.

The AOA is made up of 30 international organisations including the Pew Environment Group, WWF, Greenpeace, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), Forest & Bird  and many others from countries including China,
Korea, Russia, Norway, New Zealand, the US and the United Kingdom.