An enormous Antarctic bay, home to penguins and killer whales, became the world’s largest protected marine area on Friday.
A UN body sealed the deal after five years of negotiations, at a meeting in Hobart, Tasmania.
“It’s near pristine and how many near pristine parts of the ocean do we have left on the planet?” WWF Australia Ocean Science Manager Chris Johnson told CNN.
Twenty-four nations and the European Union agreed unanimously to declare the Ross Sea in Antarctica an official Marine Protected Area after negotiations brokered by the UN’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources
According to the UN, 50 per cent of ecotype-C killer whales (the smallest of the four types of Southern Hemisphere orcas), 40 per cent of Adelie penguins and 25 per cent of emperor penguins live in the area covered by the new park.
“The data collected from this ‘living laboratory’ helps us understand the significant changes taking place on Earth right now,” US scientist David Ainley, one of the first to call for the area to be protected, said in a statement.
Johnson said the WWF would be working hard to make the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area permanent.
The creation of this large marine reserve, which will be in force by the end of next year, includes an area of around 1.1 million sq.km, or 72 per cent of its surface, where fishing is prohibited, Efe news reported.
But Johnson warned that the agreement, which also involves a measure against climate change, “would expire in 35 years” as he called for marine protected areas to be permanent.
Other issues discussed at the meeting were sustainable and effective management of krill fishing and a fight against illegal, unregulated and unreported toothfish fishing in Antarctic waters.
The Southern Ocean is home to more than 10,000 unique species, including most of the world’s penguins, whales, seabirds, colossal squid and Antarctic toothfish, which is the main target of fishing companies operating in the region.