Russia Blocks Antarctic Sanctuary
July 17, 2013

Russia Blocks Deal On Antarctic Marine Sanctuary

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Russia has blocked attempts to establish marine reserves in the Ross Sea and Eastern Antarctica, preventing the formation of what would have become the world's largest ocean sanctuary.

According to BBC News, the Russian representative challenged the legality of a meeting that would have allowed for the creation of the reserves. The three-day-long conference, held in Bremerhaven, Germany was called by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to consider proposals that would ban fishing and protect species in the region.

CCAMLR, formed more than three decades ago to help oversee "conservation and sustainable exploitation of the Southern Ocean," had been hoping to more than double the percentage of the planet's oceans that are protected, the British news agency said. The group, which also counts the US, the European Union (EU) and China among its members, must reach a consensus in order to enact any new policies.

Two separate proposals were considered during the meeting. The first was put forward by the US and New Zealand and would have covered 640,000 square miles of the Ross Sea, which is located on the Pacific Ocean side of Antarctica. The second was backed by Australia, France and the EU, and would have protected over 730,000 square miles of coastal seas around East Antarctica on the Indian Ocean side of the world's southernmost continent.

Andrea Kavanagh, who heads up the Pew Environment Group's Southern Ocean Sanctuaries campaign, told the news agency that the Russian delegation refused to negotiate, and that their actions "have put international cooperation and goodwill at risk, the two key ingredients needed for global marine conservation ... proponent countries were unwilling to negotiate when it appeared that Russia was here in bad faith."

"After two years of preparation, including this meeting, which Russia requested to settle the scientific case for the Ross Sea and East Antarctic proposals, we leave with nothing," added Steve Campbell, director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) of green groups. "All members, except Russia, came to this meeting to negotiate in good faith."

This marks the second time in the span of a month that Russia has cited legal objections to environmental talks, according to the AFP. Last month, at a United Nations (UN) climate panel was unable to perform their duties after the Russian delegation challenged how votes were approved under the rules of consensus.

The CCAMLR let in Australia last October, but were unable to reach an agreement due to opposition by China as well as Russia, who claimed fishing restrictions were too burdensome. The member nations agreed to a special meeting this month - only the second time they had ever scheduled a conference outside their regular annual meeting. The next opportunity for the CCAMLR to negotiate the proposed marine sanctuaries will be at the organization's 2013 annual meeting, which runs from October 23 through November 1.

In a statement released prior to the conclusion of the meeting, the US State Department said the country "strongly supports the sustainable management of marine living resources," and they urged CCAMLR members to work together to "take the historic step to protect this special marine ecosystem."

They added that the Ross Sea region was "one of the last and greatest ocean wilderness areas on the planet. It is home to a unique and productive ecosystem that supports vast numbers of whales, penguins, seals and a vast range of marine life. With limited human impact to-date and a long history of scientific exploration and discovery, [it] is also a natural laboratory for scientific study to better understand climate change, our oceans, and our world."