Environmentalists have slammed Russia and Ukraine for torpedoing a bid to create the world's biggest marine reserve in Antarctica, describing it as a "dark day" for the world's oceans.
New Zealand and the United States today failed to convince the 25 members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to protect 1.3 million square kilometres of the Southern Ocean.
Russia and Ukraine, concerned with protecting access to fish stocks, blocked final agreement at the CCAMLR meeting in Hobart.
China also withdrew support for a reserve in East Antarctica, proposed by Australia and the European Union.
An umbrella group of conservationists, Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA), tonight said a historic opportunity had been missed.
Jim Barnes, executive Director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), confirmed Russia and Ukraine blocked the move.
And AOA campaign director Steve Campbell questioned if CCAMLR can deliver on its conservation mandate. The proposals will not be revisited again for another year.
Campbell said it was a "disappointing failure."
Greenpeace's international oceans campaigner Farah Obaidullah said it was "symptomatic of a dangerous global trend where corporate and political interests override any genuine efforts to protect the oceans."
Friends of the Earth Japan's Yuri Onodera said many Asian fishing nations had backed the marine protected areas.
"It is a great disappointment that we are coming away from CCAMLR again with no agreement," he said.
Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts' Southern Ocean sanctuaries project, said it was a "dark day not just for the Antarctic, but for the world's oceans."
"Self-interest" had got in the way, she said.
"The stubborn self-interest of a few should not be allowed to deny the will of the majority of countries around the world."
The proposals needed consensus from all 25 CCAMLR members.
About 3800 tonnes of toothfish, also known as Chilean sea bass, were pulled from Antarctic waters in 2011/12, 3500 tonnes of which came from the Ross Sea. The catch is worth about $20 million a year to New Zealand.
However, sources close to the negotiations indicated there was growing support for protection among member countries.
An insider said more countries had voiced approval than at a meeting in July, and there was optimism a deal could be struck next year.
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