Oct 19, 2016

Antarctic marine reserves deal within reach as Russia thaws environmental stance

written by Tina Baumgartner
in category Uncategorized

After five years of failed negotiations, conservationists are hopeful Russia is prepared to make a deal to protect the Ross Sea and East Antarctica

An international agreement to protect some of Antarctica’s unique and pristine marine ecosystems could be reached within a fortnight, with scientists and conversationists hopeful of a breakthrough after five years of failed negotiations.

Antartica is home to most of the world’s penguins and whales. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which has been meeting annually since 2011, on Monday commenced two weeks of talks to discuss creating marine reserves in the Antarctic. Photograph: Reuters

Antartica is home to most of the world’s penguins and whales. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which has been meeting annually since 2011, on Monday commenced two weeks of talks to discuss creating marine reserves in the Antarctic. Photograph: Reuters

Delegates from 24 nations and the European Union gathered in Hobart on Monday to commence two weeks of talks at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

The commission has been working since 2011 towards protecting a range of areas in the Southern Ocean.

If an agreement is reached, it would represent the first time a marine protected area was established in international waters by consensus. Russia has consistently blocked the agreement, with China also scuppering the deal each year until 2015.

This year there are signs Russia, which is chairing the meeting for the second year in a row, is prepared to make a deal to protect the Ross Sea and possibly East Antarctica.

“There has been a lot of movement within Russia for more environmental awareness – coming from high up in the Putin government,” said Andrea Kavanagh, director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean work at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In the past year, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s former chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, has been appointed special presidential representative for environmental protection, ecology and transport, and Ivanov has increased protection to waters around the Arctic.

In January Putin declared 2017 the Year of Ecology in Russia. In September, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said he had been in discussions with Putin, and revealed Russia had conducted an “interagency assessment” of the Antarctic proposals.

“I don’t know what the results of that assessment will be, but we obviously all remain hopeful that Russia will step up and join us in this endeavour,” Kerry said.

Scientists have estimated the Southern Ocean produces about three quarters of the nutrients that sustain life in the rest of the world’s oceans. The region is also home to most of the world’s penguins and whales.

Kavanagh said Antarctica marine reserves were “vital because they will protect pristine ecosystems”.

“At the height of the cold war the Antarctic treaty was signed that protected all of the land of Antarctica for peace and science, but they left out the oceans,” she said. “That was a reflection of how people viewed the oceans at the time.”

Over the coming fortnight, 250 marine scientists, conservationists and policymakers from 24 countries and the EU will discuss three proposed marine protected areas: the Ross Sea, East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea.

The chair of the CCAMLR, Vasily Titushkin, said he was “looking forward to the challenge of dealing with the many complex scientific and political issues that come up in this commission each year”.

“In the past, CCAMLR members have demonstrated an incredible commitment to work through these issues, to understand divergent views and work collaboratively to find mutually acceptable outcomes.

“This year will be no different and I intend to do everything I can, as chair, to foster an environment for that international collaboration to continue to be a main feature of CCAMLR’s annual meeting.”

By for The Guardian, 17 October 2016