Twenty-four countries, along with the European Union, announced on Friday, Oct. 27, that they have unanimously agreed to declare a portion of Antarctica an official Marine Protected Area (MPA).
The United Nation's Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources has long been brokering for the Ross Sea in Antarctica to be recognized as a marine reserve. The sea is known to be the home of a large number of killer whales and penguins, including Southern Hemisphere orcas, as well as Adélie and emperor penguins.
After five years of negotiations, the EU and other nations agreed to turn the Ross Sea into the largest marine protected park in the world during a meeting in Hobart, Tasmania.
Chris Johnson, an ocean science manager for the World Wildlife Fund, said the Ross Sea is near pristine, one of just a few such parts of the ocean left on Earth.
David Ainley, a scientist in the United States and one of the proponents of having the Arctic sea be declared a marine reserve, explained that this part of the Antarctic serves as a "living laboratory," allowing researchers to monitor the various changes Earth has currently been going through.
35-Year Expiration Period
While the declaration is considered a huge step toward nature conservation, Johnson pointed out that it is not a complete victory as the Ross Sea would only remain a marine reserve for 35 years.
The WWF official said they don't want the new deal to turn into a precedent for other marine reserves.
Before an area can be declared a marine reserve, every concerned nation has to agree to such a move. There must be a complete consensus in order for it to be adopted.
Johnson said the Ross Sea deal went through a long and difficult debate, and that its 35-year expiration period is likely one of the compromises that countries had to agree upon for them to achieve 100 percent consensus.
He added that the WWF would continue to push for the Ross Sea to permanently become an MPA.
"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," Johnson said.
Despite being an early opponent of the MPA declaration, Russia decided to finally throw in its support behind the new deal.
Sergei Ivanov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's Special Representative for Ecology, welcomed the announcement.
"Russia has a proud history of exploration and science in Antarctica," Ivanov said.
"In this time of political turbulence in so many parts of the world, we are pleased to be part of this collaborative international effort to safeguard the Ross Sea."