Ross Sea Marine Protected Area

Ross Sea Marine Protected Area has come under global lens as it has been designated as the largest marine reserve by the “Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources” with an aim to protect 598,000 square miles of water. The Commission announced it on its annual meeting at Tasmania. The Commission is made of 24 countries which include US and EU.

Ross Sea MPA

Ross Sea lies south of New Zealand in the Antarctic Ocean and is also known as the “Last Ocean” and has an area of 1.9 million square-miles.

It is considered highly rich in minerals and nutrients and supports various forms of life in sea. The agreement reached by the Commission between nations will protect 1.5 million square kilometres. 1.1 million square kilometres are regarded as the no-take zone where fishing is not allowed. The agreement is seen as a failure as it will come to a close in 2051 and can also be closed at any time. Furthermore it only seeks to protect only a third of the area and does not even reduce the total volume of fish in the sea. It is thus the first marine park created in international waters and may serve as an important step towards conservation of 30 percent of world oceans. The agreement has created a large 322,000 sq. kms “krill research zone”. Latter will allow catching of krill for research purposes while not allowing catching of tooth-fish. A “special research zone” of 110,000 sq. kms has also been created along the outer borders of no-take zone.

Discussion: Lacunae in the Ross Sea MPA

The primary point of contention is the sovereignty claims by seven states in Antarctica while both US and Russia have laid claims over entire Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 reserves the status quo without actually laying out the terms. China and Russia have served as major road-blocks in passing of MPA as they have vetoed the proposals many times.

Chinese have huge interest in the rich mineral resources of the area as it views environmental protection as a means of soft presence. Ross Sea is seen as the most likely site of hydro-carbons in the Southern Sea. It plans to build another base in the region in addition to the three bases on the Australian Antarctic Territory. Russian interests are highlighted by the presence of its Antarctic toothfish catching industry. The changes brought about by the agreement will enforce the Russian fleet to move into waters where fewer immature fish can be caught.

Nevertheless, the establishment of Ross Sea MPA is seen as a diplomatic and strategic win for Russia and China with little essence of environmental protection.

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