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Russia comes to the party as CCAMLR reaches agreement on Marine Protected Area for Ross Sea

The creation of the world’s largest Marine Protected Area in the Ross Sea will increase protection for local fauna, such as these Weddell seals. Photo: Robyn Waserman/National Science Foundation

After years of negotiations, Russia has come to the party on Marine Protection Area proposed to the Commission for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources, with all 24 members of the commission finally reaching a consensus on the creation of what will become the world's largest marine park. The announcement is a significant achievement and represents a major contribution to global marine protection.


There were some minor changes to the initial MPA proposal for the Ross Sea region of the Southern Ocean, which was jointly proposed by New Zealand and the United States. The final plan, which will enter into force on 1 December 2017, covers a massive 1.55 million square kilometres (600,000 sq miles) of ocean. 


Altered MPA allows for limited research fishing

The Marine Protected Area features a ‘no take’ General Protection Zone (a fully protected area where no fishing is permitted) that includes the Ross Sea shelf and slope and the Balleny Islands, representative protection of areas that provide good samples of special habitats (including a Scott Seamount, an underwater mountain range).


The slightly altered MPA also includes a Special Research Zone which allows for limited research fishing for krill and toothfish, in accordance with the objectives of the MPA. The boundaries of the MPA remain unchanged.


Conservation groups praise decision

Various Antarctic conservation groups have hailed the landmark decision as a major win for ecological and marine protection in the Southern Ocean.


Andrea Kavanagh, who directs The Pew Charitable Trusts Antarctic and Southern Ocean work, said it was a sign that the CCAMLR takes its role as protector of Antarctic waters seriously. “CCAMLR made history today by declaring the world’s largest marine protected area in the Ross Sea, protecting penguins, seals, whales and countless other creatures,” she said,


Mike Walker, Project Director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, said the deal was an important milestone for ocean conservation, but urged countries to go further. “For the first time, countries have put aside their differences to protect a large area of the Southern Ocean and international waters,” he said. “The limited 35-year restriction for protection of the Ross Sea contradicts the scientific advice that marine protection should be long-term. Nevertheless, we are confident that the significant benefits of protecting the Southern Ocean will soon be clear and the international community will act to safeguard this special place long into the future.”


The duration of the MPA has been set at 35 years for the General Protection Zone, with a consensus decision by the CCAMLR membership required to continue the MPA beyond this period.


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