A pragmatic utopia: should the Ross Sea be designated a Marine Protected Area?
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree LevelPostgraduate Certificate
Degree NamePostgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies
The Ross Sea is a prominent embayment in the Antarctic continent, of around 650,000km2 – an area equal to two percent of the Southern Ocean. Approximately two-thirds of this area is covered by the Ross Ice Shelf. The region is widely recognised as being the last ecosystem on Earth that is little affected by human interference. The Ross Sea is home to a plethora of unusual, unique and globally rare species; the area has high levels of biological diversity, productivity and endemism, all of which suggest the area is worth protecting. Historically, there has been some exploitation of the seal and whale populations of the Ross Sea. More recently, the area has been subject to tourism, scientific whaling, and commercial fishing for the Antarctic toothfish. Of particular concern is the growing presence of fishing vessels taking part in illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activities. The Antarctic toothfish has life-history traits that make the species vulnerable to exploitation, and little is understood about its breeding biology. IUU fishing is worrisome because it represents an unknown level of extraction for a species that appears to hold a crucial position in the Ross Sea food web. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been gaining popularity worldwide as a management tool for protecting areas of special biological importance. Currently it is difficult to create and manage MPAs in areas beyond national jurisdiction – that is, the high seas – but for some areas, regional fisheries management organisations exists. The Southern Ocean is one such place, where the management falls under the auspices of CCAMLR, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, and the associated Commission. CCAMLR successfully created the first ever high seas MPA in the Southern Ocean near the South Orkney Islands in 2010. We believe this sets an important precedent for what could be achieved in the Ross Sea. This paper presents three possible plans for creating an MPA in the Ross Sea. Plan A would see the entire Ross Sea become a no-take area indefinitely. Plan B would create a network of MPA sub-areas within the Ross Sea. Plan C would create a management intervention in the form of a moratorium on all extractive resource use (fishing, whaling, bioprospecting) in the Ross Sea for 30 years. The role of CCAMLR and the relative merits of the three options are discussed. Finally, some options are presented for how an MPA in the Ross Sea could be enforced. The Royal New Zealand Navy has boats suitable for enforcement work in the Southern Ocean; the Air Force already conducts surveillance activities, and the future acquisition of an unmanned drone is another possibility. However the most successful outcomes would be achieved via cooperative enforcement taken by a number of nations with interests in the Southern Ocean. To conclude, the authors suggest protection of the Ross Sea is both feasible and warranted. The time to act is now
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