US and NZ commit to vast conservation area

The United States and New Zealand have announced they are planning to create the world's largest marine protected area.

The 4.9 million square kilometre Ross Sea MPA in Antarctica would be nine times the size of New Zealand.

The plan has been announced in Washington by new US Secretary of State John Kerry and the New Zealand ambassador to Washington, Mike Moore.

They were speaking at the screening the National Geographic Museum of The Last Ocean by New Zealand film-maker Peter Young.

Kerry urged global safeguards.

"When it comes to the Ross Sea and Antarctica, we're not going to wait for a crisis to take action," he said adding preserving the world's oceans "is not just an environmental issue, it's a security issue.

"The entire system is interdependent and we toy with that at our peril."

The US, the European Union and 23 other countries including New Zealand will decide in July whether to approve permanent protections for the Ross Sea and for a second area in East Antarctica, or to allow large-scale industrial fishing to continue.

An attempt last November to create the MPA at a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, failed.

Kerry, 69, described himself as "a child of the ocean" and said it was hard to accept that in many areas where he had once collected mussels, they had now gone.

"I've watched it happen," he said.

New Zealand is one of the major exploiters of the Ross Sea, taking about $18 million a year in toothfish, the region's main predator fish.

A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefing on the MPA says "to be effective, an MPA needs to provide adequate protection to the marine habitats and species that live there while minimising impacts on existing users. It is about balance".

Key areas to protect include a full range of marine habitats; from the ice edge to deep oceanic basins. The proposal protects the ecologically important features and habitats, including winter ice-free areas, the entire Victoria Coast from McMurdo Sound to Cape Adare, the Balleny Islands, and almost the entire Ross Sea continental shelf.

The large bulk of the MPA, the general protection zone, will be a no-take area.

Under the proposal the toothfish fishery would continue in areas outside the MPA.

Fairfax Media