Plan includes some fishing limits in critical zones but leaves other areas open to commercial exploitation
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A proposed new conservation zone in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica could help preserve one the most productive and pristine ecosystems in the Southern Ocean.
The Ross Sea continental shelf encompasses one of the most productive ecosystems of the Southern Ocean — it’s one of the few places in the world that retains its full community of top-level predators. As such, it supports a unique community of species, including one-third of the world’s Adélie penguins, one quarter of the world population of emperor penguins, half of the Southern Pacific population of Weddell seals, and half of the world’s Ross Sea killer whales.
The U.S. will propose designating 700,000 square miles of the sea as a marine protected area during the upcoming meeting of the Antarctic conservation commission. Protection of the Ross Sea would recognize the area’s unparalleled scientific research possibilities, high biological diversity, and as-yet intact ecosystems, which make it an area of tremendous conservation and scientific value for current and future generations.
But the proposal may not go far enough for some conservation stakeholders, who seek stricter limits on commercial fishing. Of concern are slow-growing toothfish species, as well as krill, which forms the base of the Antarctic food chain. Read more about krill and the Antarctic food chain at this Pew Trust website.
The U.S. plan would leave large areas open for fishing. In a press release on the proposal, the U.S. State Department said the proposed MPA is designed to balance ecosystem protection, scientific research, and commercial fishing interests.
Part of the area would be fully protected no-fishing zone to preserve the ecosystem and serve as a scientific reference area for studying the effects of fishing and climate change. In other areas of the MPA, however, fishing would be allowed. Click here to read the proposal.