Feb 28

A coalition of international environmental organisations is launching a proposal for the world’s largest nature reserve in the seas around the Antarctic.

Photo of small icebergs in Esperanza Bay, Antarctica

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) has called for the protection of 3.6 million square kilometres of ocean, which would include a large proportion of the Ross Sea and create a reserve comparable in size to Australia.

The reserve would be protected from fishing and development, and would form part of a network of 19 protected areas in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, helping to preserve the region’s unique wildlife.

Emperor penguin profile

Emperor penguin

Pristine environment

The oceans around Antarctica are some of the most pristine in the world, and are still relatively untouched by human activities. In particular, the Ross Sea remains the most intact marine ecosystem on the planet.

The waters around Antarctica are home to almost 10,000 species, many of them found nowhere else. The Ross Sea still retains large populations of all its top predators, and supports many of Antarctica’s most charismatic species, including emperor penguins, Antarctic minke whales, Weddell seals and Antarctic petrels.

However, Antarctica’s unique environment faces a range of threats, including overfishing and the effects of climate change.

Photo of a Weddell seal pup close up

Weddell seal pup

Broader approach needed

Both New Zealand and the United States have already proposed reserves for the Ross Sea. However, the AOA claim that a much larger protected area is needed.

The Ross Sea is one of the most amazing and relatively untouched marine environments on Earth,” said Chuck Fox of the AOA. “While there are two proposals on the table to protect some of it, our report shows that we need a much broader and ecosystems-focused approach if we are to ensure this environment remains healthy and stable.”

Photo of a large group of Antarctic krill swimming under ice

Antarctic krill, a vital component of the Antarctic marine food chain

The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which was established in 1982 to conserve the marine life of the Antarctic, has agreed to create a network of marine protected areas around Antarctica. However, the AOA say that public awareness and attention are needed during this process to help achieve more than just the minimum level of protection.

Now is the time to protect this amazing environment but we’ll need the global public involved to make that happen,” said AOA Campaign Director Steve Campbell.

Find out more about the proposed marine reserve at the Antarctic Ocean Alliance.

Read more about the Antarctic on ARKive’s Antarctic eco-region pages.

View photos and videos of species from the Antarctic on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

  • Robert Tomlinson (March 1st, 2012 at 6:15 am):

    This area needs to be preserved. The way things are going it will only be a matter of time when the opportunity will be lost forever. Preserve it NOW!

  • Judy Genandt (March 1st, 2012 at 10:30 pm):

    Thanks to the incredible stupidity and short-sightedness of the human race, we are losing the battle to save this glorious planet. Do we want our children and grandchildren to live in a world of ice and snow, or of steam and rising waters? Absolutely NOT!