World’s Largest Marine Park Declared in Antarctica

animals in antarctica

An Anarctic bay encompassing 600,000 square miles of the Southern Ocean will gain protection from fishing for 35 years. The area is said to be the earth’s most pristine marine ecosystem. [1]

Attendies at the United Nations (UN) meeting in Hobart, Australia, agreed unanimously to designate the Ross Sea a Marine Protected Area (MPA) after 5 years of negotiation brokered by the U.N.’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

WWF (World Wildlife Fund) Australia Ocean Science Manager Chris Johnson said of the deal:

“It’s near pristine and how many near pristine parts of the ocean do we have left on the planet?” [2]

According to the U.N., 50% of ecotype-C killer whales (the smallest of the four types of Southern Hemisphere orcas), 40% of Adelie penguins, and 25% of emperor penguins live in the area covered by the new park.

Adelie penguins

But the entire planet benefits from the Ross Sea because nutrients from the deep waters rise up and are carried on currents worldwide. It is also home to an enormous krill population, which serve as a staple food for whales, seals, and many other species. [1]

Krill oil is essential to salmon farming. However, scientists and environmentalists are deeply concerned that over-fishing and climate change are having a destructive impact on krill numbers.


In a statement, U.S. scientist David Ainley, one of the first to call for the area to be protected, said:

“The data collected from this ‘living laboratory’ helps us understand the significant changes taking place on Earth right now.” [2]

The U.S. and New Zealand introduced the proposal, which introduces a general protection “no-take” zone where nothing can be removed, including marine life and minerals. Other special zones will be established to allow fishing krill and toothfish for research purposes only. [1]

The MPA will not reduce the total amount of fish that are allowed to be caught in the Ross Sea, but it will establish a greater distance between the fishing industry and the most crucial habitats close to the continent itself. [3]

The Ross Sea marine park is the first one created in international waters and is a significant step towards reaching the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s recommendation that 30% of the world’s oceans be protected.

Environmentalists are thrilled with the agreement, but are disappointed that it extends just 35 years. The fact that it occurred at all is somewhat of a miracle, considering the opposition the proposal received from China and Russia, which have fishing industries in the region.

The World Conservation Union (WCU) definition of a MPA requires it to be permanent.

Johnson said:

“WWF has concerns that the Ross Sea agreement does not meet this standard.

We are optimistic that after years of deadlock at the annual CCAMLR meeting, today’s decision will spark renewed momentum for CCAMLR members to achieve permanent protection for the Ross Sea in coming years and also deliver marine protected areas in East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea.”

Johnson said that, for a new marine park to be declared, every country involved must agree, adding:

“This has been a long, ongoing, challenging debate and I believe this one of the compromises in terms of getting that 100% consensus.” [2]

He said the WWF would devote its efforts to making sure the Ross Sea MPA becomes permanent.

“It’s critical to set aside these really epic spots for diversity, not just as marine parks but as places that can build resistance to the changing climate.”

In August, the then-largest ecologically protected area on earth grew even larger when President Obama expanded the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii.

Established in 2006, the monument initially covered 140,000 square miles of ocean, but President Obama expanded it to more than 580,000 square miles of land and sea.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is home to the Laysan duck, one of the most critically endangered waterfowl in the world, makes it home at Papahānaumokuākea, along with a rare species of fish called the masked angelfish.

The monument’s boundary was extended using the U.S. Antiquities Act, and the President used his executive authority to ban commercial fishing out to the 200-mile limit of the momument’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).


[1] BBC News

[2] CNN

[3] The Guardian