Moscow was the last government opposing the move, due to concerns over fishing rights, after China offered its support last year. Photograph: (Reuters)
Environmentalists welcomed the deal to designate the Ross Sea, the largest protected marine ecosystem in the world
After years of negotiations, all 24 member countries of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance and the European Union reached a consensus on Friday to create the world's largest marine reserve in Antarctica.
The agreement aimed at protecting the pristine wilderness of Antarctica was finally reached at an annual meeting in Hobart with Russia dropping its long-held opposition, due to concerns over fishing rights. China, which had earlier opposed the deal, had offered its support last year.
Under the deal, sealed by the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the US and New Zealand-backed marine protected area will be established in the Ross Sea.
It will cover more than 1.55 million square kilometres (600,000 square miles), of which 1.12 million square kilometres will be a no fishing zone, New Zealand foreign minister Murray McCully announced.
"The proposal required some changes in order to gain the unanimous support of all 25 CCAMLR members and the final agreement balances marine protection, sustainable fishing and science interests," he said. "The boundaries of the MPA, however, remain unchanged."
A second proposal for a protected area, the Australia and France-led East Antarctica sanctuary covering another one million square kilometre zone, could not be taken up due to shortage of time.
The project director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, Mike Walker, welcomed the decision, "For the first time, countries have put aside their differences to protect a large area of the Southern Ocean and international waters."
Home to penguins, seals, Antarctic toothfish, and whales, the Ross Sea is one the last intact marine ecosystems in the world, which is crucial for scientists to study how marine ecosystems function and to understand the impacts of climate change on the ocean.
(WION with inputs from AFP)