19 Oct 2015

'Crunch time' for Ross sea marine protection

12:59 pm on 19 October 2015
New Zealand is to try for a fourth time to get Antarctica's Ross Sea turned into the world's largest marine reserve.

Photo: SCIENCE PHOTO

A fifth attempt to protect the Ross Sea and East Antarctica's marine environments will be made at an international conference this week.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) annual meeting kicked off in Hobart, Australia, today, where the fifth attempt to get the protection put in place will be made.

Twenty-five countries will take part in the 34th round of discussions since the commission was established in 1982, with the aim of conserving Antarctic marine life.

This year the commission will be chaired by Russia, one of the countries which has blocked protection in the last four attempts.

WWF's Antractic programme manager Bob Zuur said CCAMLR committed to a system of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean by 2012.

"It's now 2015 and CCAMLR has only produced one marine protected area so far and two proposals will be considered for the Ross Sea and for East Antarctica and they are being considered for the fifth time so it's now crunch time to make a decision."

He said CCAMLR had done a pretty good job in relation to fisheries management with measures to control excessive krill and toothfish fishing and illegal fishing, but it was time for it to act on its conservation and protection objectives.

The waters around Antarctica are home to some 16,000 known species.

The waters around Antarctica are home to some 16,000 known species. Photo: RNZ

Mr Zuur said over the last four or five years proposals to protect the area had been watered down.

He said the protected area had reduced and marine protection intended to be permanent would now protect areas for limited periods.

"Both of those are significant compromises, so we would say to all of the members, 'we've actually come to a situation of if we want to have meaningful marine protection we've actually reached the bottom line'."

He said both allowed for reasonable fishing to happen, The Ross Sea proposal, which New Zealand was a proponent of with the United States, had clearly identified areas that warranted protection, and also identified areas that allow fishing, he said.

For a reserve to be created, all 25 members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources have to agree to it.

Last year, 22 countries and the European Union supported the proposal, but Russia and China blocked it.

The meeting will also look at initiatives to assess and reduce illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean, setting catch limits for krill, toothfish and other finfish species and limits for research fisheries.