In a pivotal agreement signed by the EU and 24 countries, the Ross Sea has become the largest protected marine area in the world, covering an area of 1.5m sq km (the area of both France and Spain combined). The environmental and ecological significance of this decision is immense.
Often referred to as the ‘Last Ocean’, the Ross Sea is one of the last ecosystems remaining on earth that is almost untouched by human activity. As the sea is so remote, it has been shielded from intense overfishing and the harsh effects of pollution. The Ross Sea contains some of the highest levels of marine biodiversity in the world, particularly from an evolutionary point of view, as there exists over 40 species that are unique to the area, that have survived and flourished due to the isolation of the area. Yet as history teaches us, few places in the world can remain completely free from human disturbance, hence the protection of this area is so significant. Due to Global Warming and the melting of the polar ice caps, many species of wildlife will lose their habitats if the issue worsens. However, the Ross Sea will eventually be one of the last remaining areas of polar ice left in the world, therefore its protection vital for offering refuge for endangered species native to similar arctic climates.
The case for protection:
- This expanse of ocean sustains over three quarters of the nutrients required by the world’s marine life for sustenance.
- The area is home to over a third of the world’s total population of Adélie and Emperor Penguins.
- The area can provide scientists with vital information to study the effects of climate change.
- Cases of intense industrial fishing, particularly by Russia of the Antarctic Toothfish, a specie vital to sustaining the ecosystem of the sea, will continue to rise unless the area is under immediate protection from overfishing.
- Japan has killed thousands of Antarctic Minke whales, for the commercial sale of their meat.
What exactly does this ‘protection’ involve?
Upon critical analysis of the deal, the flaws begin to emerge, the most significant being the expiration date of the deal, which will be in 35 years. The reason for this is the difficulty involved with negotiating this deal. Those in favour of the deal faced strong opposition from China and Russia, who have commercial interests in the area, leading to such a compromise. Yet, it is believed that the rewards, in terms of conservation of vital species that 35 years will bring will be colossal, as the deal involves the creation of a no fishing zone that spans 1.1m sq km of the protected area. The agreement has without doubt has made a powerful stand against exploitative behaviour within such at risk areas, and hopefully encourages more countries to make similar conservational efforts.
– Written by Gugundeep Kaur