A proposal from Australia, France and the European Union would create protected areas in East Antarctica covering around 1.63m sq km.
International leaders are nearing a decision in Germany today about the formation of reserves and fishing-free zones in the Antarctic.
Meetings in Bremerhaven have been held to establish reserves which ban fishing and protect species including seals and penguins. If successful the plans would more than double the area of the world’s oceans that are protected. The proposed protected zone in the Ross Sea has drawn much interest due to it being the home to a large proportion of the world’s Adelie penguins.
Though this proposal would be a significant step forward, the Australian-backed plan lags behind that of the US and New Zealand who are backing their own proposal, to protect a total area of 2.3m sq km, making it the biggest in the world, approximately the size of Algeria or approximately 16 percent of Antarctica’s land surface.
Australia joins other countries with an interest in the Southern Ocean including the US, the UK, China and Russia, on The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The final decision must have a consensus from all 25 member states.
This meeting in Bremerhaven holds particular hope for scientists and conservationists, as previous discussions were left with no final verdict. Russia and Ukraine are among the countries raising concerns about the threat these reserves could potentially pose to their fishing industries.
If no agreement is reached today, a second Commission will be held in Hobart, Australia, later this year.
Though penguins often steal the show, conservationists have reminded the world of the importance of these proposed reserves in protecting the tiny Antarctic krill, which are crucial to Antarctica’s ecosystem; part of the diet of whales, penguins, seals and sea birds. They have become endangered due to krill and Patagonian toothfish becoming highly lucrative resources; their sale driven by the increasing demand for Omega-3 oil supplements.