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Plan to Create World’s Largest Marine Reserve Off Antarctica Fails

  • Rosanne Skirble

(File) Penguins in the Antarctic's Cape Royds. A plan to protect in the Southern Ocean and Ross Sea has failed.

(File) Penguins in the Antarctic's Cape Royds. A plan to protect in the Southern Ocean and Ross Sea has failed.

Despite a decade of negotiations, talks to create the world’s largest marine reserve in waters off Antarctica broke down Friday.

Twenty-four nations and the European Union gathered in Tasmania but failed to reach a consensus on proposed protected areas in the Southern Ocean and Ross Sea.

The nations met to negotiate the plan under the auspices of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

“We are extremely disappointed that Russia and the Ukraine and China were unwilling to go along with the overwhelming majority of countries who favor enactment of marine protected areas both in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica, recognizing the special characteristics of both places," said Gerry Plante, a senior officer with the Pew Charitable Trusts and long-time advocate for the sanctuary.


The nations involved in the talks are party to the Antarctic Treaty, under which the commission operates. Decisions are made by consensus and when the three countries blocked the move, the motion was tabled.

“What they expressed at the meeting was that they were unwilling to give up their fishing opportunities, and unwilling to say, okay, maybe in that area it’s not okay to have unlimited expansion of fishing effort.”

This is the third time efforts to ratify the proposal have failed. Moving forward the treaty nations must resolve their differences with Russia, Ukraine and China before the commission's annual meeting next year, Plante says.

“And convey to those governments that they could be leaders in making the management of these marine protected areas more robust to ensure that they were achieving their scientific objectives, which is something we would all support,” he said.

The plan would have set aside 1.3 million square kilometers in the Ross Sea and 1.6 million square kilometers in East Antarctica. The continent remains one of the world’s last wild frontiers, home to 10,000 species including penguins, seabirds, seals and whales.

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