World’s largest protected marine zone created in Antarctica

Lucy Purdy

In what environmentalists are hailing a landmark deal, 24 countries have united to create the world’s largest protected marine protected area in Antarctica

More than 1.5m sq km of the Ross Sea in Antarctica will be protected under a deal that was brokered between 24 countries and the European Union and announced this morning. Some 1.1m sq km – an area the size of France and Spain combined – will be set aside and industrial fishing, which has had devastating effects on other seas around the world, will be forbidden. However, the protections will expire in 35 years.

At the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, delegates voted unanimously to create the world’s largest protected area on land or sea. It comes after five years of protracted negotiations surrounding the Ross Sea, which is considered one of the last great wilderness areas on Earth and is known as the ‘polar Garden of Eden’.

The Ross Sea is home to 50 per cent of a type of killer whale known as the Ross Sea orca, 40 per cent of Adélie penguins and 25 per cent of emperor penguins.

A small huddle of Adélie penguins, Antarctica. Image: Lin Padgham

A small huddle of Adélie penguins, Antarctica. Image: Lin Padgham

“We are thrilled that this very special part of our planet’s oceans has been safeguarded for future generations,” said UN environment chief Erik Solheim.

“The Ross Sea is one of the most pristine marine ecosystems left on Earth, and home to many species found nowhere else,” added US scientist David Ainley, who was among the first to call for a marine protected area 14 years ago.

“The data collected from this ‘living laboratory’ helps us understand the significant changes taking place on Earth right now. The Ross Sea has much more value as an intact marine ecosystem than as a fishing ground.”

The so-called High Seas take up 45 per cent of the Earth’s surface. But they are largely unprotected and face rampant overfishing.

The Ross Sea has much more value as an intact marine ecosystem than as a fishing ground

Main image: Andreas Kambanis

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