With less than four months until a long-awaited decision on new protections for portions of the Antarctic Southern Ocean, The Pew Charitable Trusts today will welcome U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and ambassadors from around the world to discuss proposed marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean, including the U.S.-New Zealand effort to create the largest marine protected area on Earth in the Ross Sea.
Secretary Kerry will deliver remarks in the company of the New Zealand Ambassador to the United States and former prime minister, the Right Honorable Mike Moore, and the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, at an evening reception and screening of the award-winning documentary, "The Last Ocean," at the National Geographic Society. Highlighting the Ross Sea, the film shows the stark and frozen landscape of Antarctica surrounded by an ocean filled with a dazzling abundance of marine life.
In July, at the urging of scientists and conservation leaders, 24 countries and the European Union are expected to decide whether to create marine protected areas in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica, or leave them unprotected and vulnerable to large-scale fishing. Over the past decade, several nations have expanded their fishing activity in the Ross Sea, targeting the Antarctic toothfish, an apex predator in the ecosystem that's marketed in the United States as "Chilean sea bass."
The United States and New Zealand have partnered on a proposal to protect a vast area in the Ross Sea. Their efforts fell short the last time governments met on Antarctic conservation. The two countries are now increasing efforts to gain support for the creation of a Ross Sea marine protected area this summer.
"We are very proud of the United States/New Zealand proposal for a Ross Sea Marine Protected Area, which would be the largest of its kind in the world," said Ambassador Moore. "Our joint proposal is born out of a shared commitment to the environment, and a shared vision for the management of our oceans and fisheries. To us, it represents the best chance of successfully establishing an MPA in this important region."
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, or CCAMLR, was formed in 1982 to address the conservation and sustainable use of marine life in the Southern Ocean. It makes decisions by consensus.
In 2011, CCAMLR member states identified a number of areas for possible protection. In October 2012, the first two areas were proposed: the Ross Sea, by the United States and New Zealand, and the East Antarctic marine area, by the European Union, France and Australia. But the commission could not reach consensus, and has called a special meeting that will take place in Bremerhaven, Germany, from July 15-17, to revisit the proposals.
"Australia is an island state, with the third -largest marine jurisdiction in the world," said Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Carr. "Australia recognizes that Marine Protected Areas are valuable ocean management tools used to protect marine biodiversity, species or populations at risk of extinction, habitats that are critical for the lifecycle of species, and the structure and function of ecosystems. The Australian Government recently created the world's largest representative network of marine protected areas. Australia supports the protection of the Ross Sea, and is working on a similar initiative with the European Union and France to create marine reserves off the coast of East Antarctica."
Pew has supported the conservation of the Southern Ocean for two decades, and has partnered with scientists, environmental groups and governments to identify marine areas with important environmental and scientific value. The biodiversity in the region includes 16,000 known species, including significant populations of penguins, whales, and seals. The Antarctic is a living laboratory for scientists to understand how climate change affects marine ecosystems.
"The Ross Sea is one of the most pristine places left on Earth," said Joshua Reichert, executive vice president of The Pew Charitable Trusts. "It now faces challenges, brought on in great part by the warming of the earth's climate, that threaten to alter the fragile web of life that has endured for millennia. While we cannot prevent some of these changes from taking place, we can protect it from other types of pressures such as industrial fishing that will further exacerbate disruption.
"The international community must work together to ensure that these Antarctic waters are designated, and that the protections they agree to are permanent and comprehensive, without loopholes that will allow more incursions from industrial fishing. The countdown to consensus starts now."
For press resources, including photos and video, visit pewenvironment.org.