Elyssa Rosen spent the last eight years of her life fighting to protect wilderness areas and the pristine waters of Antarctica.
The 48-year-old died in a tragic diving accident at the weekend during a break from talks to establish marine reserves in the Southern Ocean.
Conservationists are now urging negotiators to support two proposed sanctuaries as a lasting tribute to her memory.
A joint New Zealand-US plan to establish a marine protected area in the Ross Sea is being deliberated at a meeting of the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart.
Rosen, from the southwestern United States, drowned while diving off the coast of Tasmania on Saturday.
An officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts, she was among hundreds of observers attending the negotiations.
Her diving companions located her lying in 12 metres of water, shortly after she was reported missing.
Attempts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead on arrival at Royal Hobart Hospital.
After her death, her colleagues in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition - an umbrella group of environmental groups - read a tribute to the meeting.
Rosen was fascinated by Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and was "passionate about need to protect it and the exquisite marine life in it," a friend and colleague told the meeting.
"She was 100 per cent dedicated to achieving large meaningful, permanent, marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean... I could think of no better tribute to her than to leave the meeting this year with two new large, meaningful, long-lasting marine protected areas in Antarctica."
Establishing the reserves would be a lasting legacy to the "fierce protector and defender of the last wild places on Earth".
The accomplished artist and sculptor was described as a "brilliant, creative, strategic, and fiercely competitive and strong-minded woman... an amazing advocate".
She also had an open heart and was "exceptionally kind".
Delegates from 24 countries and the EU, plus environmental observers, are negotiating the protection of the Antarctic marine environment.
CCAMLR is also anticipated to support a ban on finning dead sharks, proposed by the US.
Outside the meeting on Monday, about 150 people attended a rally, holding binoculars and blue balloons featuring eyes, to remind participants that the world is watching.
Two plans are on the table - the Ross Sea proposal, and an area of protection in East Antarctica, drawn up by Australia and the EU. Talks stalled at a special meeting of CCAMLR in July, after Russia questioned their legal authority.
Since then the proposals have been wound back. The New Zealand Government slashed the Ross Sea MPA by 40 per cent in a bid to win consensus from all members.
But the leader of the Russian delegation, Dmitry Kremenyuk, this week told the US press that he believes the watered-down proposals could succeed.
The Antarctica Ocean Alliance organised the rally and is calling for "robust" protection.
Wildlife photographer John Weller said: "The Ross Sea is considered by many scientists to be the most pristine ocean left in the world, where whales, penguins and Antarctic toothfish still thrive in an intact food web.
"Creating Antarctic reserves would be the first truly multilateral effort to create international marine reserves on a large scale."
The US-NZ sanctuary would stretch for 1.32 million square kilometres in the Ross Sea with 1.25 million sqkm proposed as "no-take". A second proposal from Australia and the EU would protect 1.6 million sqkm of East Antarctic waters.
The meeting ends tomorrow when decisions will be announced.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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