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The Southern Ocean will be sheltered from fishing in the next 35 years. The agreement comes after five years of negotiations. Russia was the last one to accept it.
Representatives of 24 countries and the European Union have reached a historic agreement for the Ross Sea, Antarctica, to become the largest marine protected area in the world.
More than 1.55 million square kilometres of the Southern Ocean will be sheltered from fishing in the next 35 years.
After five years of failed negotiations, the deal has been sealed by Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) at the annual meeting of Hobart.
The meetings aimed to analyse the proposals on the creation of three protected marine areas, which cover over five million square kilometers in Antarctic waters.
MORE PROPOSALS FOR THE FUTURE
While the Ross Sea plan got the go-ahead, time ran out at the meeting to reach agreement on a second proposed protected area – the Australia and France-led East Antarctica sanctuary covering another one million square kilometre zone.
A third German-proposed plan is also in the works to protect the Weddell Sea, which extends from the southeast of South America over an area of some 2.8 million square kilometres.
“The proposal required some changes in order to gain the unanimous support of all 25 CCAMLR members and the final agreement balances marine protection, sustainable fishing and science interests ", said Murray McCully, Foreing Affairs Minister of New Zealand.
The agreement needed the consensus of the 24 member countries and the European Union.
"For the first time, countries have put aside their differences to protect a large area of the Southern Ocean and international waters", said Mike Walker, project manager of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance.
RUSSIA, THE LAST ONE TO ACCEPT THE DEAL
Russia was the last government opposing the move, largely due to concerns over fishing rights, after China offered its support last year.
“We had a lot of talks with them. Secretary (John) Kerry reached out to Russian President (Vladimir) Putin and (Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov and I think that helped a great deal to convince Russia to come on board”, Evan Bloom, head of the US delegation at the meeting, told AFP.
CRITICAL TO STUDY MARINE ECOSYSTEMS
The Ross Sea is one of the last intact marine ecosystems in the world, home to penguins, seals, Antarctic toothfish, whales and huge numbers of krill, a staple food for many species.
It is considered critical for scientists to study how marine ecosystems function and to understand the impacts of climate change on the ocean.