Antarctica’s ice shelf is disappearing fast, and two human activities in particular, fishing and tourism, are contributing to changing the continent’s ecosystem.
Alarmed by this development, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) — an international group whose members include Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., the U.K., Russia, China, Norway and France — gathered in a specially-convened meeting last week to consider a proposal to turn 1.5 million square kilometers of ocean around the Antarctic into what would be the world’s largest ocean sanctuary by blocking out fishing.
That means Antarctica would be the site of a marine sanctuary even larger than the one million square kilometer one created in Australia’s Coral Sea, east of the Great Barrier Reef.
One proposal, laid out by the United States and New Zealand, covered 1.6 million square kilometers of the Ross Sea, the deep bay on Antarctica’s Pacific side.
The other, backed by Australia, France and the European Union, protected 1.9 million square kilometers of coastal seas off East Antarctica, on the frozen continent’s Indian Ocean side.
Both proposals ran into a major obstacle on July 16, when Russia refused to agree to either of them.
With their combined 3.8 million square kilometers, the Southern Ocean reserves, an area rich in unique species, would have covered more space than all of the world’s existing marine reserves combined.
Sadly, this is not happening anytime soon.
Instead, Russia used its veto power to block implementation. In doing so, the Russian Federation defied the European Union as well as the U.S. and the other 23 members of the CCAMLR.
Why did Russia oppose this plan?
According to ThinkProgress:
Russian opposition to the sanctuaries focused on a procedural issue they had not raised at previous meetings. Instead of questioning the science or rationale for the reserves, the Russian delegation insisted the commission had no legal right to establish them in the first place. Such protestations really amount to little more than stall tactics. CCAMLR’s guidelines, approved by all member states, including Russia, clearly grant the commission this authority. In fact, the organization has already established one marine protected area — the world’s first outside any national jurisdiction — off the coast of Antarctica’s South Orkney Islands.
So what is really going on?
Andrea Kavanagh, in charge of the Southern Ocean Sanctuaries campaign at the US green group Pew Environment, isn’t sure, but she does know that the Russian actions have jeopardized global marine conservation.
Steve Campbell, director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance of green groups, was deeply disappointed.
“After two years of preparation, including this meeting, which Russia requested to settle the scientific case for the Ross Sea and East Antarctic proposals, we leave with nothing,”
The Global Ocean Commission, an organization developing recommendations to improve international management of the high seas, sent a letter to the leaders of CCAMLR’s member states urging approval of the sanctuaries that would enhance international protection of critical habitats.
What a wonderful opportunity for world powers to come together and agree on global ocean ecosystem protection, and what a sad outcome.
Still, the Global Ocean Commission and other proponents of the sanctuaries are not giving up: the issue will be back on the table at CCAMLR’s 2013 annual meeting, which is to be held in Hobart, Australia, in October.
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