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Ross Sea receives long awaited protection

Shout it from the highest mountain in Antarctica: The Ross Sea, at last, has received protection. The nations of CCAMLR (the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Living Resources) have finally after years of discussion and negotiation agreed on a 1.55 million sq km core area of the Ross Sea to be protected. Some 1.12 million sq km will receive the highest level of protection. The balance will be in special research zones where some fishing may still be allowed.

As in many areas of the world, access to fishing has been the stumbling block. In the case of the Ross Sea it is the valuable toothfish treasured not only by fishers but by the Ross Sea killer whales and the entire Ross Sea ecosystem. The toothfish and the battle for the Ross Sea were brilliantly captured in the feature film The Last Ocean by Peter Young. WDC helped sponsor and promote this film which introduced the world to the treasures of the Ross Sea and why it needed to be protected.

The Ross Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA) is the culmination of many years work by many individuals and groups, notably Jim Barnes and Claire Christian from the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) and penguin scientist David Ainley, It is a tribute to what can be accomplished by those who have a great idea and refuse to give up, no matter how long it takes.

WDC also played a role with the publication of Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (2004, 2011) which included a detailed case study and mapping proposal for what was then the nascent Ross Sea MPA idea. WDC celebrated the whale populations in the area, not just that it was the stronghold for the ecotype of Ross Sea orcas, but that it had substantial minke whale numbers as well as other whale species, and that it was a largely intact ecosystem, the last of its kind in the southern ocean. The Ross Sea was the jewel of WDC’s original “12 for 2012” MPA campaign — an effort to accelerate habitat protection for whales and dolphins around the world.

The small print on the agreement for the new MPA is that it will need to be revisited and renewed in 35 years. This buys a lot of time for nations of the world to appreciate its value.

For more about the Ross Sea, see http://uk.whales.org/wdc-in-action/proposal-for-marine-protection-of-ross-sea

About Erich Hoyt

Erich is a Research Fellow at WDC and Co-chair of the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force. He is a director of the Far East Russian Orca Project (FEROP). View references to Erich's published material on Google Scholar. Follow Erich on Twitter.