After Russia blocked ambitious marine-conservation proposals for Antarctica earlier this summer, the United States and New Zealand are now floating a somewhat more modest version of plans that could create the world’s largest marine reserve.
In July, Russian delegates to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) vetoed a joint New Zealand–United States proposal for a vast marine reserve in the Ross Sea, as well as a separate proposal by Australia, France and the European Union.
The New Zealand–US proposal up for consideration earlier this year called for a ‘marine protected area’ (MPA) size of 2.3 million square kilometres in the Ross Sea, which included a core 1.6 million square kilometres of Antarctic waters that would be off-limits to fishing. In contrast, the new proposal, announced last week ahead of the next CCAMLR meeting, has a no-fishing zone of 1.25 million square kilometres, and a total size of 1.35 million square kilometres.
“It is very disappointing that the New Zealand Government has weakened its proposal,” said Bob Zuur, who heads the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Initiative of the Washington DC-based World Wildlife Fund, in a statement. “It is also baffling as to why this has happened at this stage in the negotiations. There is a compelling scientific case for a large protected area and the New Zealand Government should have continued acting on the basis of this science.”
On its website the New Zealand ministry of foreign affairs said the revision was due to the fact that CCAMLR’s scientific committee had not been convinced of the evidence for some of the original Ross Sea proposal and the new plan “still protected a full range of habitats, ecosystems and areas of particular ecological significance”. The country remains “strongly committed to creating a marine protected area in the Ross Sea region”.
Campaigners have also expressed concern that New Zealand is now acknowledging that the reserve may not be permanent, saying on its website that this issue will be considered at the CCAMLR meeting in Hobart, Australia, in October.