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Antarctica's Ross Sea sanctuary greenlighted

Antarctica’s Ross Sea sanctuary has been greenlighted – it will be the largest marine conservation zone in the world.

Nations reached a unanimous agreement to create the world’s largest marine sanctuary in Antarctica’s Ross Sea after years of arbitration.

The agreement was made on Friday, Oct. 28 at a Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources conference hosted in Hobart, Australia. 24 countries and the European Union made this deal.

“The Ross Sea is is thought to be the last great wilderness area on Earth and has earned the nickname of the polar ‘Garden of Eden.’ The area is home to 50 per cent of ecotype-C killer whales (also known as the Ross Sea orca), 40 per cent of Adélie penguins, and 25 per cent of emperor penguins” according to a statement released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Antarctica’s Ross Sea sanctuary will cover 600,000 square miles – twice the size of France or Texas.

UNEP’s Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh said that at this time of “strained political relations,” this agreement is extraordinary. He continued, “In 1959 at the height of the Cold War, Antarctica was set aside as a place for peace and science – today’s announcement shows that Antarctica continues to be a place for peace and bridge building, a place where we can find common ground. My hope is that what has been achieved here, can be used to foster dialog and cooperation in other parts of the world.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has praised the agreement and given us insight on the background of the deal. “It happened thanks to many years of persistent scientific and policy review, intense negotiations, and principled diplomacy. It happened because our nations understood the responsibility we share to protect this unique place for future generations.”

Individual countries already have established protected areas in their own waters. The Ross Sea Sanctuary will be the second-ever protected area on the high seas.

The agreement will come into effect this December. The majority of the sanctuary will become a “no-take zone” which prevents fishing, but other areas of the zone will permit some harvesting for scientific research.

Scientists will be able to use these two zones to learn valuable insights about different ecosystems and will be able to review the impact of fishing to understand variables which affect all marine life.

The sea is thought to be the home of more than 10 mammal species, 95 species of fish, and at least 1000 invertebrates. The mammal populations include Adélie penguins, Emperor penguins, snow petrels, leopard seals and killer whales.

Read the full press release from the CCAMLR here.

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