Largest marine reserve in the world comes into effect in Antarctica

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 1 December 2017

The world’s biggest marine reserve in Antarctica officially comes into effect today and it’s being called a “watershed” moment in conservation. The marine protected area in the Ross Sea covers 1.5 million square km and some 72% is a “no-take” zone where all fishing is forbidden.

© Christopher Michel

The Ross Sea ice shelf is one of these as we’ve seen countless times on natural history films. We are delighted that this area is to be fully protected, as it supports extensive biomass and diversity of life.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt,
MCS, Principle Specialist, Marine Protected Areas

British endurance swimmer, Lewis Pugh, who completed a series of swims in around Antarctica to call for the marine reserve in the “pristine” waters of the Ross Sea said: “All the freezing swims I undertook in the Ross Sea in 2015 were now absolutely worth it.”

MCS Principal Specialist, Marine Protected Areas, Dr Jean-Luc Solandt says these are some of the most productive seas in the world - harbouring vast reserves of marine life: “The Ross Sea ice shelf is one of these as we’ve seen countless times on natural history films. We are delighted that this area is to be fully protected, as it supports extensive biomass and diversity of life.

“The Government needs to implement strong protection measures around the British Isles where we have a massive 293 ‘paper parks’ covering 23% of our UK territorial seas that don’t protect anything. We’ve calculated that only 1% of our seas in these ‘paper parks’ is permanently protected from bottom trawling, whilst a less than 0.003% are in no take zone zones – that’s just 50km square.”

The marine protected area in the Ross Sea will curb damaging activities such as fishing, to protect wildlife including Adelie and emperor penguins in the high seas off Antarctica. 430,000 square miles of the total area is a “no-take” zone where all fishing is banned forbidden, while other areas will allow some harvesting of fish and krill for scientific research.

The newly protected area has been created out of an agreement by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which is made up of 24 countries - including the UK - and the EU.

Swimmer Lewis Pugh said: “The creation of Ross Sea marine protected area is a watershed moment in the history of conservation. It’s not just the largest protected area in the world, but it’s the first large scale marine protected area in the High Seas.

“As such, it sets a very important precedent. But the real work starts today - we now have to intensify our efforts to protect the remaining seas around Antarctica. Our futures really do depend on it.”

He urged the UK Government to take the “next step” in protecting the waters around Antarctica by boosting protection around South Georgia and putting in place a fully protected “no-take zone” round the neighbouring South Sandwich Islands.

“These islands in the Scotia Sea are one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the whole world, and it’s crucial we protect them from rapid climate change and industrial over-fishing.”

He called on Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to take decisive action to protect the islands from industrial fishing fleets which he fears will soon move in.

And in other news - An international agreement that prevents commercial fisheries from starting in the Central Arctic Ocean before adequate science is collected and appropriate regulatory mechanisms are in place has been signed.

The signatories, which include the five Arctic coastal countries—the United States, Canada, Russia, Greenland/Denmark, and Norway—plus China, the European Union, Iceland, Japan, and South Korea, agreed to close the region to fishing for at least 16 years to better understand this ever changing ecosystem and its marine life and to determine if fishing there could be ecologically sustainable.

After that initial term, the pact will extend automatically in five-year increments unless a country objects or science-based fishing limits and management measures are adopted.

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Did you know?…

Over half a million people have voiced their support for ‘marine protected area’ designation in the UK through our campaigns

Over 170 parliamentarians from across the political spectrum signed up to our Marine Charter calling for a network of ‘marine protected areas’ in UK Seas