The news this past week was victorious. A coalition of twenty-four nations and the European Union declared one and a half million square kilometers of sea around Antarctica, known as the Ross Sea, as protected area. Of that, over one million square kilometers will be set aside as a no-take “general protection zone,” where fishing will be prohibited.
The Ross Sea may be remote for humans, but it’s critically important to the health of the world’s oceans. In 2008, researchers determined the Ross Sea to be “the most pristine piece of the ocean left on Earth.”
“The Antarctic protections had been urgently sought because of the importance of the Southern Ocean to the world’s natural resources. For example, scientists have estimated that the Southern Ocean produces about three-quarters of the nutrients that sustain life in the rest of the world’s oceans. The region is also home to most of the world’s penguins and whales.
The Ross Sea is a deep bay in the Southern Ocean that many scientists consider to be the last intact marine ecosystem on Earth – a living laboratory ideally suited for investigating life in the Antarctic and how climate change is affecting the planet.”
National Geographic notes:
“South of New Zealand and deep in the Southern (or Antarctic) Ocean, the 1.9 million square-mile Ross Sea is sometimes called the “Last Ocean” because it is largely untouched by humans. Its nutrient-rich waters are the most productive in the Antarctic, leading to huge plankton and krill blooms that support vast numbers of fish, seals, penguins, and whales.”
Conservationists around the globe hailed the designation of this area, which is now the world’s largest marine protected area.
“This landmark decision represents the first time that nations have agreed to protect a huge area of the ocean that lies beyond the jurisdiction of any individual country and shows that CCAMLR takes its role as protector of Antarctic waters seriously.” –Andrea Kavanagh, director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean work for the Pew Charitable Trusts