Antarctica’s Ross Sea world’s largest marine protected area


    The world’s largest marine protected area (MPA) has been established in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.

    A 1.55 million km2 area of the Ross Sea will have special protection from human activities such as commercial fishing.

    At a meeting in Hobart, Australia, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) agreed to a joint USA/New Zealand proposal to establish the MPA.

    A map of Antarctica
    A map of Antarctica

    Declaring an area an MPA means that certain activities are limited or prohibited in order to meet specific conservation and habitat protection objectives.

    Ross Sea is an important area for marine life: it is home to 38 percent of the world’s population Adelie penguins, 30 percent of the world’s Antarctic petrels and six percent of the world’s Antarctic minke whales.

    Antarctic Krill

    It is also home to huge numbers of krill, the staple food for whales and seals and whose oil is critical for salmon farming. However, there are concerns overfishing and climate change are having significant impacts on their numbers, which contributed to the negotiations to designate the area as an MPA.

    The new MPA will come into force in December 2017, and under the new rules, around 72 percent of the Ross Sea will be a ‘no-take’ zone which forbids all fishing, while other sections will permit some harvesting of fish and krill for scientific research.

    CCAMLR’s Scientific Committee first endorsed the scientific basis for proposals for the Ross Sea region, put forward by the USA and New Zealand in 2011. It has taken five years to refine the proposal as well as work through the specific details such as the location of the boundaries of the MPA.

    Emperor penguins with Chicks
    Emperor penguins with Chicks

    “This decision represents an almost unprecedented level of international cooperation regarding a large marine ecosystem comprising important benthic and pelagic habitats,” Andrew Wright, CCAMLR’s executive secretary, said in a statement.

    “It has been well worth the wait because there is now agreement among all Members that this is the right thing to do and they will all work towards the MPA’s successful implementation,” he added.

    The world’s first high-seas MPA was designated in 2009, covering the South Orkney Islands southern shelf, an area of 94 000 km2 in the South Atlantic. MPAs aim to provide protection to marine species and can assist in rebuilding fish stocks and sustaining biological diversity.