Over 50 countries have come together to agree on the world’s largest marine reserve in Antarctica, home to penguins, whales, seabirds and even colossal squid.
Mother nature is having a tough time of it lately, with the world’s wildlife population expected to drop 70pc by 2020.
Coordinated action – or even coordinated inaction – is desperately needed and, in the cold tundra and freezing waters of Antarctica, something is finally being done.
The 28-state European Union today joined with 24 countries to agree on 1.55m sq km worth of ocean to be protected, creating a new Ross Sea marine park which will not allow commercial fishing for 35 years.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which met in Australia to finally agree on something in the works for years now, decided on the Ross Sea due to its significance in ecological terms.
The sanctuary will cover over 12pc of the Southern Ocean, which is home to more than 10,000 species and, according to the US state department, “one of the last unspoiled ocean wilderness areas on the planet”.
Calling the move “extraordinary progress”, US secretary of state John Kerry said the agreement came about “thanks to many years of persistent scientific and policy review, intense negotiations, and principled diplomacy”.
“It happened because our nations understood the responsibility we share to protect this unique place for future generations.”
Most of the world’s penguins, whales, seabirds, colossal squid and Antarctic toothfish frequent the area, with fishing banned completely within 1.1m sq km of the zone. The remaining areas are designated for a fresh research push, with some fishing for krill and sawfish permitted.
Russia was one of the countries originally blocking such progress but now, upon the fifth request, has gotten on board. In recent months, Russia has also expanded its Arctic national park, protecting an additional 190 small islands encased with ice most of the year.
There, the likes of Atlantic walrus, bowhead whale, polar bear, narwhal, and white gull will gain added protection.
However, the newly protected Antarctica area “shows that the world can successfully cooperate on global environmental issues,” according to Enric Sala, National Geographic’s ‘explorer-in-residence’, leading the Pristine Seas project.
“The Ross Sea is probably the largest ocean wilderness left on our planet,” he said.
“It is the Serengeti of Antarctica, a wild place full of wildlife such as emperor penguins, leopard seals, minke whales, and killer whales. It’s one of these rare places where humans are only visitors and large animals rule.”
According to a new World Wildlife Fund report, between 1970 and 2012, 58pc of the global vertebrate populations – including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish – have declined due to human activity.
Of that number, the worst hit have been animals living in the world’s lakes, rivers and freshwater systems whose populations have declined by an incredible 81pc.
Looking towards 2020 with the turn of the decade, the WWF estimated that global wildlife populations could drop by as much as two-thirds without immediate intervention.