Australia, NZ vow to press on with Antarctic plans

Agence France-Presse
Australia and New Zealand said they were deeply disappointed with Russia blocking a plan to create the world's largest ocean sanctuary off Antarctica, but vowed to push ahead

ANTARCTIC LANDSCAPE. A picture made available on 10 March 2013 shows two people taking pictures of the King George Island, in archipelago of South Shetland, Antarctica, 20 February 2013. Photo by EPA/Felipe Trueba

SYDNEY, Australia – Australia and New Zealand Wednesday, July 17, said they were deeply disappointed with Russia blocking a plan to create the world’s largest ocean sanctuary off Antarctica, but vowed to push ahead.

Russia on Tuesday, July 16, questioned the legal right of a meeting in Bremerhaven, northern Germany, to declare such a haven, according to organizations at the talks. Most other nations supported the proposals.

The three-day talks gathered 24 nations plus the European Union in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), a 31-year-old treaty tasked with overseeing conservation and sustainable exploitation of the Southern Ocean.

One proposal, floated by the United States and New Zealand, covered 1.6 million square kilometers (640,000 square miles) of the Ross Sea, the deep bay on Antarctica’s Pacific side.

The other, backed by Australia, France and the EU, would protect 1.9 million square kilometers of coastal seas off East Antarctica, on the frozen continent’s Indian Ocean side.

Tony Fleming, director of the Australian Antarctic Division and the nation’s top delegate in Germany, admitted it was a setback but vowed to keep pushing for the sanctuaries.

“Between now and the next CCAMLR meeting we will continue to work hard with all CCAMLR nations to progress the East Antarctic proposal, and address any outstanding concerns in order to reach agreement,” he said in a statement.

“Australia remains optimistic. We received many positive and constructive comments on the proposal that has been developed on the basis of the best available science.”

The next CCAMLR meeting is in Hobart, Australia, from October 23.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully expressed “deep disappointment” at the talks’ failure but said the Ross Sea proposal would not be abandoned.

“This debate will not simply go away,” he said.

“International pressure for responsible leadership will intensify and New Zealand has every intention of playing its full part in ultimately achieving the right outcome.”

Protecting the areas — which biologists say are rich in unique species — would more than double the area of the world’s oceans declared sanctuaries.

While Russia believes the restrictions on fishing are too onerous, conservationists argue the proposals do not go far enough to protect marine life.

The waters around the Antarctica are home to some 16,000 known species, including whales, seals, albatrosses and penguins, as well as unique species of fish, sponges and worms that are bioluminescent or produce their own natural anti-freeze to survive in the region’s chilly waters.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance, a coalition of 30 leading environmental groups including Greenpeace and WWF, said everyone at the meeting came to negotiate in good faith, “except Russia”.

“The Russian delegation must now work in good faith and make sure the proposals go forward at the next CCAMLR meeting to ensure a lasting legacy for future generations,” said Richard Page, Greenpeace Oceans campaigner. – Rappler.com

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