A huge area of ocean surrounding Antarctica could become the world’s largest no-fishing marine reserve after a vote this week by an international conservation commission.
This week, members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic marine Living Resources, which consists of 24 countries and the European Union, will vote on the two proposals. The first proposal, a U.S./New Zealand one, will set aside 876,000 square miles around the frozen Ross Sea. the second proposal between Europe and Australia will set aside a 700,000 square-mile string of reserves around Eastern Antarctica. If a unanimous vote is reached, it will ban fishing in these areas, allowing for research zones to be created, and taking up an area that’s 13 times the size of the United Kingdom.
As of right now, less than 2% of the world’s oceans are marine reserves, so this is a pretty big deal.
“This could be a historic first step leading to more marine reserves in other places,” said Evan Bloom, lead U.S. Negotiator at the meeting. “If we can’t do it in Antarctica, it raises the question of where else we could create the large reserves elsewhere that many people would like to see.”
The Ross Sea reserve would protect emperor penguins, minke whales, crabeater seals, and the popular Chilean Sea Bass, which has seen a dramatic decrease in its population since commercial fishing for it became popular in 1996. There would be small areas available for research purposes to track the effect of warming waters on the habitat.
This is the second vote on the marine proposals. The previous one failed to garner the unanimous votes last October. So far, Russia and China that are reportedly expressing the most concern, due mostly to their large commercial fishing industries.
Whether the unanimous vote is reached or not, it will be interesting to hear the back-and-forth that will inevitably happen regarding the decision ahead. Hopefully this time, everyone will look beyond their own national interests and focus more on preserving these precious areas of the planet.
Image CC licensed by US Embassy New Zealand: McMurdo Sound, an inlet of the Ross Sea, Antarctica.