Frustrating advocates, an international commission charged with overseeing the Southern Ocean took no action Thursday on a proposal championed by the United States and New Zealand to create the world’s largest marine reserve in the seas around Antarctica.
The two nations had proposed the creation of a 872,000-square-mile reserve in the Ross Sea and East Antarctic; conservationists wanted more, some 1.9 million square miles of protected area. Crucially, despite months of talks between Washington and New Zealand’s government in Wellington, the two countries went into the meeting in Hobart, Australia, with slightly different plans and had to work out a joint proposal early this week.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, whose members include the European Union and 24 member states, operates on a consensus principle, and the issue never came to a vote. Gerald Leape, a marine policy official with the Pew Environment Group, said China and Russia had been the main opponents of the proposal, while Japan, South Korea and Ukraine had been lukewarm.
The Southern Ocean is one of the most important ecosystems on Earth, home to penguins, seals and whales, as well as vast populations of krill, one of the most important links in the ocean food chain.