International negotiations aimed at creating one of the world’s largest marine reserves in the waters off Antarctica ended in failure this week in the face of resistance from Russia, China and Ukraine, delegates to the talks said recently.
In the talks, held in Hobart, Tasmania, under the auspices of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the United States and New Zealand had proposed to create a 500,000-square-mile reserve in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.
The area’s pristine ecosystem helps sustain thousands of species, including whales, seals and penguins, as well as crustaceans and small fish.
The proposal before the marine commission needed support from 24 member countries and the European Union to be adopted, but it fell short because of the objections from the three countries, people at the talks said.
Yuri Onodera, a climate adviser for Friends of the Earth Japan who attended the two-week meeting, said by telephone from Hobart that the underlying concern among the three nations was whether creating a sanctuary would cut off their access to fish stocks and undermine their fishing industries.
He said China had indicated that it could be receptive to an agreement in the future. Russia and Ukraine in the past have questioned the commission’s authority to create such reserves, as well as the reserves’ scientific and legal justification.
Fisheries scientists argue that creating reserves helps protect and restore ecosystems under pressure from overfishing, pollution and climate change. Antarctic waters account for about 10 percent of the world’s oceans.
A concurrent proposal, championed by Australia, France and the European Union, for a network of protected areas in the eastern Antarctic region was also blocked, people at the meeting said, even after the area under discussion was significantly reduced.
Mr. Onodera said economic and political interests had trumped global environmental imperatives. “Once again, national interests and politics are a hurdle to the international interest of protecting the environment,” he said.
Environmentalists described the failed talks as a major setback for the world’s oceans.
Rod Downie, a polar expert for the World Wildlife Fund, said the Southern Ocean was home to hundreds of species in need of protection. “These marine protected areas are needed to protect some of the most intact marine ecosystems left on our planet,” he said, “so to see the talks break down is hugely disappointing.”
Most of the fishing activity in the Ross Sea, which is part of the Southern Ocean, is focused on the Patagonian toothfish, often marketed as Chilean sea bass. But there is also an interest in harvesting krill, tiny creatures that are found in the Southern Ocean ecosystem.
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