The Last Ocean Trust expressed concerns that New Zealand and United States are giving away too much too soon in fresh negotiations to create a large scale marine protected area (MPA) in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.
A joint US/NZ proposal to designate a Ross Sea MPA of 2.3 million square kilometres, including a "fully protected" area of 1.6 million square kilometres, was put forward last year to the 25 member states of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), but failed to gain consensus. Further talks in Bremerhaven, Germany last July were blocked by the Russian delegation on a legal technicality.
According to a New Zealand media report, diplomatic insiders fear a revised US/NZ plan would cut the proposed MPA by around %40 and those cuts likely to include large areas of the north which are believed to contain breeding grounds for Antarctic toothfish and seamounts that provide crucial habitat to a diverse range of Southern Ocean species.
"New Zealand and the United States need to back the huge weight of scientific evidence they themselves prepared and presented to CCAMLR"said Peter Young, co-founder of the Last Ocean Trust. "The current MPA proposal is thorough and robust and both countries need to show more belief in what they want others to believe in."
The Ross Sea is a biodiversity hotspot and is the most productive area of the Southern Ocean. It is home to many species found nowhere else on the planet and has all its top predators intact, including whales, seals, large fish, penguins and other seabirds. The Ross Sea is critical for scientific research, both for studying how intact marine ecosystems function and for determining the impacts of global climate change.
"For the Ross Sea, giving up so much before securing the support of the countries that have opposed its protection would be a great strategic mistake that could mean we end up protecting very little," said Jim Barnes, Executive Director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) in a media release from the AOA.
"The 30 organisations that make the Antarctic Ocean Alliance would be deeply concerned that the US and New Zealand could be giving away too much, leaving us with a protected area that reduces protection for the Ross Sea, " said AOA’s Steve Campbell in the media release. "That would mean missing the opportunity to protect some of the most critical and unique marine ecosystem while they are still intact."
"With commercial fishing continuing in the Ross Sea, we are already threatening the natural balance of the last large intact ocean ecosystem on Earth. That balance will soon be lost forever, we now need to fight for what remains - one of the most incredible, pristine and fragile marine environments on the planet." Said Peter Young.
The Alliance partners will attend the next CCAMLR meeting in Hobart in October this year to press the organisation to deliver on its conservation commitments and extend protection to the Ross Sea and other important Southern Ocean habitats.
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