Ross Sea Designated as World’s Largest Marine Protected Area

Historic decision to protect 1.55 million square kilometers comes after 5 years of negotiations

Ross Sea Marine Protected Area

© John B. Weller

The map was updated on Nov. 28, 2016 to list the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources as the source. This analysis was updated on Nov. 7, 2016, to remove references to shipping and tourism, which were not material to the piece.

Today’s closing of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meeting made history by declaring the largest marine protected area on the planet in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. This marks the first time that CCAMLR’s 24 member countries and the European Union reached consensus to protect this huge area of the Southern Ocean after similar proposals were blocked for the past five years.

The 1.55 million square kilometer marine protected area will provide critical habitat, including breeding and foraging grounds, for a multitude of penguins, seals, krill, whales, and other species. This landmark decision represents the first time that nations have agreed to protect a huge area of the ocean that lies beyond the jurisdiction of any individual country and shows that CCAMLR takes its role as protector of Antarctic waters seriously.

It would not have been possible without Russia joining with other countries to pass the proposal. The governments of the United States and New Zealand should also be commended for their tireless work during these past six years.

This historic decision comes on the heels of the momentum generated from the Our Ocean conference held in Washington last month, hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, where ocean protections totaling nearly 4 million square kilometers were announced.

Andrea Kavanagh directs Pew’s Antarctic and Southern Ocean work.

CCAMLR 101: How to Protect Antarctica's Marine Life

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