Ambitious Ross Sea marine reserve bid

04:36, Feb 28 2012
Orca whales, Ross Sea, Antarctica.
Orca whales, Ross Sea, Antarctica.
Adelie Penguin
Adelie penguins, Ross Sea, Antarctica.
Weddell Seal, Ross Sea, Antarctica
Weddell seal, Ross Sea, Antarctica.
Iceberg and snow petrel, Ross Sea, Antarctica
Iceberg and snow petrel, Ross Sea, Antarctica.
Toothfish
Toothfish with diver, Southern Ocean, Antarctica.

A powerful coalition of international environmental organisations is today launching a bid to create the world's largest marine protected area - much of it in New Zealand's Ross Sea in Antarctica.

The 16 organisations making up the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA), backed by Virgin entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and UN Biodiversity Ambassador Edward Norton, calls for 3.6 million square kilometres of critical ecosystems in the Ross Sea to be protected from fishing and development.

AOA was due to launch their campaign at a reception in Wellington tonight.

Their study Antarctic Ocean Legacy: A Marine Reserve for the Ross Sea, outlines a proposal and rationale for a fully protected marine reserve in the Ross Sea, to become the keystone of the world's largest network of marine protected areas and no-take marine reserves in the Southern Ocean.

"The Ross Sea is one of the most amazing and relatively untouched marine environments on earth," said the Alliance's Chuck Fox.

"While there are two proposals on the table to protect some of it, our report shows that we need a much broader and ecosystems-focused approach if we are to ensure this environment remains healthy and stable."

The regulatory body responsible for the Ross Sea and the rest of the Southern Ocean, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has agreed to create a network of marine protected areas in some of the ocean around Antarctica this year and next.

AOA says CCAMLR meets with limited public participation and no media access.

Only minimal protection will be achieved through it.

"The fate of the Antarctic's Ross Sea is likely to be decided by 24 countries and the EU this year and the global public knows nothing about it," said Alliance Campaign Director Steve Campbell.

"Now is the time to protect this amazing environment but we'll need the global public involved to make that happen."

Antarctic waters make up almost 10 percent of the world's seas and are some of the most intact left on earth.

Home to almost 10,000 unique and diverse species such as penguins, seals and whales, these waters are now at risk from the impacts of commercial fishing and climate change.

The Ross Sea supports large proportions of the world's populations of some of the most well-known and charismatic Antarctic species, including at least:

- 38 per cent of the world population of Adelie penguins;

- 26 per cent of the world population of emperor penguins;

- 30 per cent or more of the world population of Antarctic petrels;

- 6 per cent of the world population of Antarctic minke whales;

- 45 per cent of the Southern Pacific population of Weddell seals;

- 50 per cent of the world's Ross Sea killer whales.

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AOA graphic
The Antarctic Ocean Alliance's proposed marine reserve. <b><a target=_blank href="http://static.stuff.co.nz/files/AOARossSeaProposalmap3FINALLO.pdf">Click here for full-size graphic</a></b>

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