In a development considered as a major win towards conservation of marine diversity, member countries of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) have agreed to building one of the largest marine protected area (MPA) in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.
The proposal for a MPA measuring 1.55 million km2 area of the Ross Sea with special protection from human activities was put forward jointly by USA and New Zealand and with the proposal now clear, the new MPA will come into force in December 2017.
According to the deal certain activities will be entirely prohibited in order to meet specific conservation, habitat protection, ecosystem monitoring and fisheries management objectives. 72 per cent of the MPA will be a ‘no-take’ zone, which forbids all fishing, while other sections will permit some harvesting of fish and krill for scientific research.
CCAMLR Executive Secretary, Andrew Wright, said that the negotiations have been one of the most complex ones and while the details are yet to be worked out, the establishment of the MPA is a huge achievement.
CCAMLR’s Scientific Committee first endorsed the scientific basis for proposals for the Ross Sea region put forward by the USA and New Zealand in 2011. It invited the Commission to consider the proposals and provide guidance on how they could be progressed. Each year from 2012 to 2015 the proposal was refined in terms of the scientific data to support the proposal as well as the specific details such as exact location of the boundaries of the MPA. Details of implementation of the MPA will be negotiated through the development of a specific monitoring and assessment plan. The delegations of New Zealand and the USA will facilitate this process.
This year’s decision to establish a Ross Sea MPA follows CCAMLR’s establishment, in 2009, of the world’s first high-seas MPA, the South Orkney Islands southern shelf MPA, a region covering 94 000 km2 in the south Atlantic.
MPAs aim to provide protection to marine species, biodiversity, habitat, foraging and nursery areas, as well as to preserve historical and cultural sites. MPAs can assist in rebuilding fish stocks, supporting ecosystem processes, monitoring ecosystem change and sustaining biological diversity.
Areas closed to fishing, or in which fishing activities are restricted, can be used by scientists to compare with areas that are open to fishing. This enables scientists to research the relative impacts of fishing and other changes, such as those arising from climate change. This can help our understanding of the range of variables affecting the overall status and health of marine ecosystems.