In a landmark arrangement, 24 nations and the European Union signed to establish the largest marine reserve off the coast of Antarctica. The designated protected area will encompass 600,000 square miles of ocean -- nearly as big as Alaska.
“For the first time since really the Cold War, countries have put aside their differences to protect a large area of the Southern Ocean and international waters,” said Andrea Kavanagh of the Pew Charitable Trusts, part of an alliance of nonprofits that pushed for the deal.
A great victory for marine wildlife
In the area, which is right off the coast of the Ross Sea ice shelf, commercial fishing is now completely illegal. However, some 28 percent of the area will be designated for research purposes -- here, scientists are allowed to catch fish and krill, penguins, seals, and other animals. Hopefully, this article from the agreements text won't be turned into a loophole (eyes on you, Japan).
The agreement was reached at Hobart, Tasmania, a deal which was five years in the making and was mediated by the Australian government. However, discussions about making a no-fishing zone in Antarctica's waters have been going on for over a decade. The United States and New Zealand proposed a similar agreement in the past, but no consensus could be reached because Russia didn't approve it. Now, Russia is among the states which signed the deal at Hobart on Friday.
The news is not only important for the endangered marine species in the area, but for species worldwide. That's because the Ross Sea reserve is the first marine park created in international waters, setting a precedent for others locations to open around the world -- and we know these are desperately needed. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s recommendation that 30% of the world’s oceans be protected.
“It’s probably why this agreement has taken so long to conclude, being the first outside a national jurisdiction and in an area of the high seas,” Ms. Kavanagh said
The reserve status is set to expire in 35 years. Hopefully, the terms will be extended past this point.