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Ross Sea - Protecting an Ecological Treasure

View slideshow Emperor penguin adults attending to their chicks at Cape Crozier, Ross Island, Antarctica. Emperor penguins can dive to depths of 500 meters for 5 to 12 minutes at a time. Credit: Paul Ponganis, National Science Foundation ADELIESWET.png GARROTT_SEALS_GROUP.png BRITTLESTARYELLOWSPONGE.png FISHURCHIN.png JELLYFISH.png KRILL_POOL.png PENGUINCHICK.png LEOPARDAWAKE.png ORCAS1.png BERG4.png SCINIDEPLOY.png SEAICEPEOPLE.png

The Ross Sea MPA

The joint U.S.-New Zealand proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA) would protect key areas that support essential ecosystem processes and safeguard critical areas for penguins, seals, whales, fish species, and the species they feed upon, while allowing critical polar research and limited fishing in certain areas to occur. The adoption of the MPA proposal is a key environmental priority of the U.S. and New Zealand governments, and the initiative has strong support from U.S. Secretary of State Kerry. The Ross Sea Region MPA proposal will be discussed at the CCAMLR meeting held July 15-16, 2013 in Germany.

Update (as of July 17 2013)

While most Members of CCAMLR showed support for the Ross Sea Region MPA proposal, CCAMLR could not reach agreement for its establishment at the special meeting. Further discussion on this and a proposal for a representative system of MPAs in East Antarctica will continue at the regular annual meeting of CCAMLR in October 2013. 

July 1, 2013

Two weeks from today, members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) will have the opportunity to protect one of the most pristine and unique marine environments on earth, the Ross Sea. At this year’s special meeting of CCAMLR, the international body responsible for the conservation and management of Antarctic marine resources, nations will make decisions on a U.S.-New Zealand proposal that would protect portions of the Ross Sea by designating it a Marine Protected Area (MPA). NOAA Fisheries played a key role in the development of the Ross Sea Region proposal.

The Ross Sea Region is one of the last great ocean wilderness areas on the planet, supporting one of the most productive ecosystems in the Southern Ocean, high biodiversity, and a unique assemblage of species found nowhere else on Earth.  It is also one of the most studied polar regions, with some of the world’s longest time series of polar observations.

A Unique Ocean Wilderness

The climatology, oceanography, geology and geography of the Ross Sea Region have created an area of unequaled biological productivity in the Antarctic and provide the physical conditions that support an ecosystem unlike any other in the polar regions. Many consider the Ross Sea Region to be one of the last truly unspoiled areas of marine wilderness on the planet. The marine ecosystem in the Ross Sea Region supports important forage populations of krill and silverfish, as well as diverse seafloor communities that include sponges, corals, and other invertebrates. The Ross Sea Region is also home to large populations of many top predators, including over one third of the world’s Adélie penguins, one quarter of the world’s Emperor penguins, half of the Southern Pacific population of Weddell seals, and half of the world’s Type C killer whales.

A Living Laboratory for Critical Research

The long-term datasets on the Ross Sea Region’s geology, climatology, oceanography, and biology provide a robust foundation of knowledge about the region’s ecosystem, as compared to many other polar marine areas.  Protecting this place provides scientists with an unprecedented ability to conduct research to assess the impacts of climate change and fishing on Antarctic marine ecosystems.

These remarkable scientific, biodiversity, and ecosystem characteristics make the Ross Sea Region an area of tremendous conservation and scientific value for current and future generations. Stay tuned for news later this month on the Ross Sea Region MPA proposal.

Caption (left): Map of the proposed Ross Sea Region marine protected area, as submitted by the United States and New Zealand for consideration by CCAMLR.