Antarctica: biggest marine reserve being discussed in the Ross Sea

By Magdalena Muir, EUCC Advisory Board member

The Ross Sea is one the most pristine marine ecosystems on Earth. Located adjacent to Antarctica and without human occupation, it has not been subject to pollution, invasive species, mining, or overfishing. The Ross Sea is the most productive stretch of water in the Southern Ocean, and has high concentrations of wildlife, including large predatory fish, whales, seals, and penguins. Because of its pristine nature and abundance, the Ross Sea provides a unique opportunity to understand the functioning of healthy marine ecosystems. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is the international body that manages living marine resources around Antarctica. The commission has made a commitment to designate a network of marine protected areas by 2012, with the Ross Sea identified as one of these areas. The Ross Sea ecosystem may be protected if fishing is eliminated and the Ross Sea, including the continental shelf and slope, are designated as a marine protected area (read more on coastal seas including polar seas).

The proposed protected zone in the Ross Sea is home to a large proportion of the world’s Adelie penguins (Source: BBC)

The CCAMLR is made up of countries with an interest in the Southern Ocean, and includes Australia, the US, the UK, China and Russia among its members. Any decisions taken require consensus among all parties. The idea of creating marine protected areas has been around for several years – but when it came to a decision late last October 2012, several countries including Russia, the Ukraine and China had reservations and the meeting ran out of time.The same thing happened in July 2013 when the Russia blocked attempts by western countries to set up the protected areas in the Ross Sea and Eastern Antarctica (learn more).

The US and New Zealand are again backing a proposal to create a marine protected zone in the Ross Sea with a total area of 2.3m sq km, making it the biggest in the world.The fate of the proposed marine sanctuaries in Antactica now lies in the next annual meeting of CCAMLR in Hobart, which runs from 23 October-1 November 2013. The US and New Zealand were again backing a proposal to create a marine protected zone in the Ross Sea with a total area of 2.3 million sq km, making it the biggest in the world. Another proposal from Australia, France and the European Union would have created protected areas in East Antarctica covering around 1.63 million sq km.

Background information