It is not often that political news regarding the environment brings a grin to my face. However, at the moment I am happy in the knowledge that a plan to make the Ross Sea a marine reserve is becoming reality, as a result of an agreement between New Zealand and the United States. After years of negotiations the 25 nations that control Antarctica’s fate, including New Zealand, have reached an agreement to turn a 1.6 million km² area into a marine reserve.
However many challenges still remain to be dealt with. The most important ones are:
- Enforcing the zone – will it be a joint operation by the nations that agreed to establish it, or will a few nations do most of the work?
- Will there be a clause that enables expansion of the reserve
- What happens to nations that are caught in breach of the marine reserve
- Is the range of marine life – both birds and mammals – that is to be granted protection diverse enough to ensure that the Ross Sea ecosystem is okay
- Correlating gas data with known marine currents to see how the Ross Sea ecosystem is performing
The negotiations have not always gone well. In past years, Russia and Ukraine have challenged the New Zealand/American initiative by refusing to support the reserve. Japan, a country well known for its whaling has often put up stubborn resistance to measures that would impede its ability to continue “whaling for scientific purposes”. China, whose vast and rapidly growing population have a huge ecological footprint, caused by decades of spectacular economic growth faces a challenge meeting near insatiable demand for fish.
It is perhaps also important for the U.S. to finish this agreement before the United States Presidential Election on 8 November – neither Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton have said anything about the sustainability of the worlds oceans. This is despite them being significant carbon sinks, whose whale population can take up 2 million tons and significant concern about the destructive effects of acidification.
But for now, let us celebrate the announcement of the Ross Sea Marine Reserve. It is a substantial victory for the seas and everything that live in them.