Antarctic nations face off again over sanctuary plans


SYDNEY — Nations pushing to create vast ocean sanctuaries off Antarctica that cover an area the size of India hope to overcome objections to their plans at talks this week in Australia. Two proposals for huge no-fishing havens are on the table at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meeting in Hobart from Oct. 23-Nov. 1. At stake, say environmentalists, are the world’s last great ocean wildernesses, with waters that are home to some 16,000 known species, including whales, seals, albatrosses, penguins and unique species of fish. As the world’s fish stocks reel from decades of over-exploitation, trawlers have been venturing ever southward in search of new catches. “It’s time to act,” Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Pew Environment Trust’s Southern Ocean sanctuaries project, said ahead of the meeting.

“Countries can overcome the false starts of the past year by coming together this month to safeguard these vital areas.” One proposal, floated by Australia, France and the European Union, would protect 1.6 million square kilometers (640,000 sq. miles) off East Antarctica, on the frozen continent’s Indian Ocean side. The other, from the United States and New Zealand, is to lock up 1.25 million square kilometres of the Ross Sea, the deep bay on Antarctica’s Pacific side. The combined area of 2.85 million square kilometers is a fraction smaller than India, more than five times larger than France and would fit Britain in 12 times. If adopted, the sanctuaries would practically double the world’s marine reserves overnight. But to proceed, they need unanimous backing from all members of CCAMLR, a body comprising 24 countries plus the EU, which was set up in 1982 to oversee conservation of marine line in the Southern Ocean.