The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources that oversees the waters around Antarctica recently announced a new marine protected area in the Ross Sea. The commission comprises 24 countries, including the United States, and the European Union. It was a unanimous decision by the international body when two holdout nations, Russia and China came on board.
The Ross Sea is located south of New Zealand and deep in the southern Antarctic Ocean. It is often referred to as the “Last Ocean” because it has been largely untouched by humans. Its waters are nutrient rich and the most productive in the Antarctic, leading to huge plankton and krill blooms that support vast numbers of fish, seals, penguins and whales.
A 2011 study in the journal Biological Conservation called the Ross Sea “the least altered marine ecosystem on Earth,” citing intact communities of emperor and Adelie penguins, crabeater seals, orcas, and minke whales.
The Ross Sea area has largely escaped the heavy fishing and shipping pressure that has impacted much of the world’s oceans due to its remote location. While some fishing has occurred in the past the new accord will ban all fishing in the 432,000 square miles of the new reserve starting December 1, 2017.
Eric Sala, a marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer in Residence said the newly protected area “shows that the world can successfully cooperate on global environmental issues.”
Dr. Kathryn Sullivan of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said: “The announcement of the creation of a Marine Protected Area in the Antarctic is truly historic. Home to a variety of penguins, seals, whales, seabirds, and fish, the Ross Sea is one of the most pristine places left in the world’s ocean. This new designation, which took years of scientific research and international diplomacy. Reflects the recognition of 25 governments that we have a shared responsibility to protect this unique place for future generations.”
Photo by Paul Nicklen National Geographic Creative