On Friday October 28th, 2016, a coalition of 24 nations and the European Union came together, after more than 5 years of failed talks and negotiations, to establish the world’s largest marine preserve in the Ross Sea of Antarctica. Due to it’s combination of cold, nutrient rich water and unique climatology and geography, the Ross Sea is home to an unusually rich and diverse ecosystem.
“The Ross Sea is widely considered to be the last great wilderness area on Earth and known as the polar ‘Garden of Eden’.” Occupants include “50 per cent of ecotype-C killer whales (also known as the Ross Sea orca), 40 per cent of Adélie penguins, and 25 per cent of emperor penguins.”
– United Nations Environment Programme
At 600,000 square miles, the new marine preserve is almost the size of Alaska (663,000). 72% of this area is an absolute “no-take” zone, in which marine life will exist entirely independently of human activity, with the exception of scientific research. The remainder will allow limited harvesting of fish and krill. Scientists will be able to compare the harvested area with the untouched zone.
The Ross Sea is incontrovertibly the most pristine ocean on Earth. The greater ocean system, the Southern Ocean of which the Ross Sea is a deep bay, is responsible for up to 75% of the nutrients dispersed around the globe. It is an extremely biologically productive ecosystem, referring to the rate of production of biomass. this biomass begins with low-level organisms such os zooplankton and phytoplankton and moves up trophic levels, eventually reaching top predators.
The Ross Sea is perhaps the last ecosystem on the planet with it’s top predators still in place in proportion to the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. Ecosystem function quickly degrades in function and complexity in the absence of top predators. In addition to appreciating the intrinsic value of life and biologic systems, this area is integral to scientists understanding of how ecosystems changed when impacted by humans and climate change.
In an age of political tension, the agreement itself is a big deal and did not just fall into place. Major players such as Russia and China held out until today. Commercial fishing interests sought access as other areas have become increasingly overfished or regulated. Other nations, like the U.S. and New Zealand, have been pushing for the reserve for years.
“It happened thanks to many years of persistent scientific and policy review, intense negotiations, and principled diplomacy. It happened because our nations understood the responsibility we share to protect this unique place for future generations.”
– Secretary of State John Kerry
More photos of Antarctica can be seen here, during Miles’ 2014 ski trip to the continent.