The Ross Sea, a deep bay in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, is said to be the most pristine marine ecosystem on Earth. And due to a unanimous decision made by delegates from 24 countries and the European Union, the Ross Sea now holds the title of the world’s largest marine protected area. At the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources’ meeting in Tasmania, it was announced that 598,000 square miles of water would now be for the next 35 years.
The Ross Sea’s nutrient-filled waters are the most productive in the Antarctic, and support huge numbers of krill, which are a staple in the diets of whales, penguins, and seals. Not only do the Ross Sea’s nutrients allow for an ample base of the food chain, but they are also upwelled and carried by currents around the world.
The Ross Sea only comprises of less than 2% of the Southern Ocean, but it is home to 38% of the world’s Adelie penguins, 30% of the world’s Antarctic petrels, and 6% of the world’s Antarctic minke whales. The life and ecosystem has remained largely unaltered due to the sea’s remoteness. However, in recent years fishing of the Antarctic toothfish has begun. Under the agreement, some toothfish fishing will be permitted in 166,000 square miles of the protected 598,000. The remaining 432,000 square miles will be protected from commercial fishing. The Ross Sea negotiations will be implemented on December 1, 2017.
It is no secret that the protection of the Ross Sea is a monumental gain for conservationists worldwide. Even more impressive however, is how the environmental cause has won over the two prominent holdout nations: China and Russia. While China was swayed last year with a petition signed by 500 environmental scientists, Russia was only convinced in the past week. In my opinion, the holdout countries’ eventual agreement is an extremely positive sign for the future. Perhaps this decision can start a precedence of an increased number of marine protected areas and reserves. It’s a good first step towards increased conservation. This decision has essentially preserved what is called the “Last Ocean,” and has proved that international environmental progress is not only possible, but on an upwards trend. It is in indication that the environment and conservation is of rising importance not just in the Western World, but in countries where such issues have never been a priority before.
“CCAMLR to Create World’s Largest Marine Protected Area.” Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Last modified October 28, 2016. Accessed November 9, 2016. https://www.ccamlr.org/node/92518.
Howard, Brian Clark. “World’s Largest Marine Reserve Created off Antarctica.” National Geographic. Last modified October 27, 2016. Accessed November 9, 2016. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/ross-sea-marine-protected-area-antarctica/.
McGrath, Matt. “World’s Largest Marine Protected Area Declared in Antarctica.” BBC. Last modified October 28, 2016. Accessed November 9, 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-37789594.
Nicklen, Paul. Emperor Penguins Slice through the Cold Waters of the Ross Sea. Photograph. Accessed November 9, 2016. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/content/dam/news/2016/10/27/ross-sea/ross-sea-2.adapt.1190.1.jpg.