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Ross Sea becomes world’s largest protected area

The 1.57 mn sq km area - which is larger than the UK, France, Germany and Italy together - will be protected from the kind of industrial fishing that has had devastating effects on other seas around the world

After five years of protracted negotiations, Antarctica’s Ross Sea has finally been declared a Marine Protected Area.

The Ross Sea is widely considered to be the last great wilderness area on Earth and known as the polar ‘Garden of Eden’.

At the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart, Tasmania, delegates from 24 nations and the European Union voted unanimously to create the world’s largest protected area on land or sea, the UNEP reported.

“We are thrilled that this very special part of our planet’s oceans has been safeguarded for future generations,” said UN Environment head Erik Solheim. “We are especially proud of our Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh, who shuttled between the nations to help find consensus. Today’s result is a testament to his determined efforts.”

This historic occasion marks the first time a large-scale marine protected area has been established in the High Seas. The 1.57 mn sq km area – which is larger than the UK, France, Germany and Italy together – will be protected from the kind of industrial fishing that has had devastating effects on other seas around the world.

“The Ross Sea is one of the most pristine marine ecosystems left on Earth, and home to many species found nowhere else,” said US scientist David Ainley, who was the first to call for a marine protected area 14 years ago. “The data collected from this ‘living laboratory’ helps us understand the significant changes taking place on Earth right now. The Ross Sea has much more value as an intact marine ecosystem than as a fishing ground.”

The Ross Sea is home to 50 per cent of ecotype-C killer whales (also known as the Ross Sea orca), 40 per cent of Adélie penguins, and 25 per cent of emperor penguins.

“I am overjoyed,” Pugh said. “The Ross Sea is one of the most magnificent places on Earth. It is one of our last great wilderness areas. This is a dream come true.”

For the past two years, Pugh has campaigned tirelessly to protect the region. After undertaking a series of swims in the Ross Sea in February 2015 to draw attention to the issue, Pugh visited Moscow numerous times in an effort to convince Russian officials to endorse the Ross Sea protected area. Until now, Russia had blocked the proposal no less than five times.

The media dubbed Pugh’s efforts ‘Speedo diplomacy’, because of the endurance swimmer’s ability to survive freezing Antarctic waters wearing nothing more than a pair of swimming trunks.

 

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