Written by Jen Finn
FRISCO — For only the second time in its 32-year history, an international Antarctic conservation commission will meet outside its regularly scheduled session, and stakes are huge, as delegates from around the world will decide whether to protect the seas around Antarctica from unsustainable fishing.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources will meet in Bremerhaven, Germany starting July 15 specifically to continue discussions on two proposals for the establishment of marine protected areas: One for the Ross Sea region, submitted by New Zealand and the United States, and the second for waters off East Antarctica, submitted by Australia, France and the European Union. The two proposals would establish marine protections across about 1.2 million square miles of the Southern Ocean, totaling an area about the size of India.
The proposed reserve in the pristine Ross sea, would be the size of Alaska, nearly doubling the documented 849,000 square miles of fully protected ocean worldwide. The rules would ban fishing and other extractive activities to protect biodiversity and preserve the area's value as a reference area against which to measure global warming changes and other impacts.
About 1.6 million square miles of marine protected areas proposed for the East Antarctic also could be designated. Although fishing would not be banned outright in the East Antarctic area, no fishing is taking place there, and any request to start would require international consensus.
"This could be the decision of the decade for our oceans," said Andrea Kavanagh, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' Southern Ocean campaign. "If countries work together next month, we will double the conservation areas of the ocean, and protect the world's most pristine seas."
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