Antarctic sanctuaries verdict expected today

  • 30/10/2015
New Zealand, the US and Australia are attempting to protect the marine environment off the Antarctic Coast (Reuters file)
New Zealand, the US and Australia are attempting to protect the marine environment off the Antarctic Coast (Reuters file)

By Paul Purcell

The decision on whether to create two enormous marine sanctuaries off the Antarctic coast is expected to be announced at the conclusion of international talks in Australia.

A New Zealand-US bid - along with another Australian-backed scheme - aimed at protecting marine life surrounding the frozen continent, has been discussed at the annual Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meeting that began in Hobart on October 19.

Both bids were blocked by China and Russia last year.

The commission will announce its decision during a report release today.

New Zealand first proposed to designate a Ross Sea marine protected area (MPA) in 2011 but the bid has been met with significant opposition from the two heavyweights.

The plan for "The Last Ocean" has since been scaled back to 1.25 million square kilometres with 1.14 million square kilometres proposed as a "no take" zone.

Meanwhile, the Australian-backed East Antarctica scheme has also been watered down from a 1.9 million square kilometre MPA, to a 946,998 square kilometre zone with some fishing and research allowed provided conservation values are met.

Both plans must win the support of all 25 members of CCAMLR to succeed.

Environmentalists say the Southern Ocean is the world's last untouched wilderness and home to more than 10,000 unique species, including penguins, whales and colossal squid, as well as being a region critical for scientific research.

CCAMLR is a treaty-based group tasked with overseeing conservation and sustainable exploitation of the Antarctic Ocean with talks to continue until later today.

NZN