Lonely Planet Writer

Major boost for ecosystem as world’s largest marine reserve gets green light in Antarctica

After years of negotiations, scientists have finally been given the go-ahead to establish the world’s largest marine reserve in the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica.

Gentoo penguin overlooking the bay at sunset in Antarctica
Gentoo penguin overlooking the bay at sunset in Antarctica Image by Markus Eichenberger Photography

The creation of the zone – virtually the size of Alaska or over six times bigger than Britain – of 600,000 nautical square miles was agreed unanimously by 250 ocean experts and policy makers and will significantly bolster the ecosystem while simultaneously cracking down on illegal fishing. The accord by the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was reached by the EU and 24 other countries including Australia on Friday 28 October.

Under the terms of the new treaty, fishing by commercial interests will be outlawed in the vast area. A further 28% of the oceanic area will be assigned to research zones allowing researchers to catch a controlled amount of fish. This includes krill – the minute invertebrates which are a rich source of food for seals, penguins, whales and other sea animals.

Weddell seal looking up out of the water, Antarctica.
Weddell seal looking up out of the water, Antarctica. Image by Mint Images/ Art Wolfe

The area is mostly located along the coast of the Ross Sea ice shelf and will come under statute protection in 13 months time with the agreement to last until 2052. Sky News reported that both the USA and New Zealand had led the drive for a protected reserve for some time. However, creating the conservation zone needed a multilateral consensus.

Russia’s refusal to comply had been a stumbling block last year but this year it agreed to the proposal. The leader of the US delegation, Evan Bloom, described the deal as a “major step” in international marine conservation as well as for the Antarctic region.

He told the New York Times the major significance of the agreement was the size of the protected area and the fact that it was a “no-take area”. New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully claimed the deal was a victory for “quiet diplomacy and honest toil.”