A massive new marine reserve was created around Antarctica on Friday that will protect some 600,000 square miles of ocean in one of the world’s last vestiges of unspoiled wilderness. The new park, stretching throughout the Ross Sea, becomes the world’s largest protected marine area.
A bloc of 24 nations and the European Union, tasked with Antarctic conservation, announced the decision in Hobart, Australia, following two weeks of negotiations. The reserve will be protected for 35 years.
“The Ross Sea Region [Marine Protected Area] will safeguard one of the last unspoiled ocean wilderness areas on the planet ― home to unparalleled marine biodiversity and thriving communities of penguins, seals, whales, seabirds, and fish,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. He called the protection “proof that the world is finally beginning to understand the urgency of the threats facing our planet.”
New statutes will ban fishing in 425,000 square miles of the Ross Sea, according to Reuters, and the remaining territory will be used as a research area with only a small amount of fishing allowed for scientific purposes. Commercial fishing will still be allowed in the Ross Sea outside of the reserve’s boundaries, further from critical breeding and feeding areas, The New York Times reports.
The region, which will come under protection on Dec. 1, 2017, is home to more than 10,000 unique species, including penguins, whales, seals, krill and colossal squid.
The decision culminates five years of failed negotiations by the 25 members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. It represents the first time a marine park has been created in international waters, according to The Guardian.
The Guardian’s Michael Slezak notes the 35-year expiration was a compromise from China and Russia, which had raised objections in recent years over fishing. The international group required unanimous support for decisions affecting the region.
Despite the shortcoming, the declaration was hailed by environmental groups. Greenpeace Australia called the decision a “huge victory for whales, penguins and toothfish that live there and for the millions of people standing up to protect our oceans.”
Greenpeace called for further effort to help reach a recently announced initiative by the World Conservation Congress to protect at least 30 percent of ocean habitats.
The world has been quickly working toward that goal: In September, international commitments were made to protect a further 1.5 million square miles of ocean at the U.S. State Department’s Our Ocean conference.
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