U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for establishing the world’s largest protected marine area in Antarctica and urged stronger global safeguards for oceans.
Kerry and New Zealand’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Moore, announced yesterday a joint New Zealand-U.S. proposal to establish a Marine Protected Area, or MPA, in the Ross Sea, a 1.9 million-square-mile area off the Antarctic coast.
“When it comes to the Ross Sea and Antarctica, we’re not going to wait for a crisis to take action,” Kerry said in Washington at a screening of “The Last Ocean,” a documentary by New Zealand filmmaker Peter Young.
Preserving the world’s oceans “is not just an environmental issue, it’s a security issue,” Kerry said. “The entire system is interdependent and we toy with that at our peril.”
The U.S., the European Union and 23 other countries are set to decide in July whether to approve permanent protections for the Ross Sea and for a second area in East Antarctica, or to allow large-scale industrial fishing to continue.
An attempt to reach agreement on establishing a protected area in the Ross Sea stalled in November at a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, a panel established by international convention in 1982. While some areas of the Ross Sea would be protected under the joint U.S.-New Zealand proposal, the plan would still allow fishing in the most productive areas, said Young, who called that “a disappointment.”
“Last year was a critical time for us,” Young said in an interview, referring to the 2012 attempts to establish a protected area. While China and Russia raised concerns about the proposal, there were also differences between the U.S. and New Zealand, he said.
“We wanted New Zealand to come out with a much stronger proposal and they just dug their heels in,” Young said. “The U.S. had a much stronger conservation stance and basically the U.S. had to take the New Zealand position.”
The environment, ocean conservation and climate change are priorities for Kerry, who helped celebrate the first ‘Earth Day’ as a young man in 1970 and worked extensively on those issues in his 28 years as U.S. senator from Massachusetts.
In his remarks yesterday at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, the 69-year-old Kerry recalled boyhood memories of paddling in the ocean off Cape Cod and searching for mussels to cook for dinner.
“I am a child of the ocean in many ways,” he said. Today, “it’s very difficult to find mussels anywhere” in the areas he searched as a child. “I’ve watched it happen,” he said of environmental degradation and climate change.
Commercial fishing is already disrupting the Ross Sea’s ecosystem, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Antarctic toothfish, also known as Chilean sea bass, has critical spawning areas there. A 2012 study published in the “Aquatic Mammals” academic journal found that over the years, the average size of these fish has been shrinking. The Ross Sea also provides a vital reference area for assessing and recording the impact of climate change, according to Pew.
The Ross Sea, Kerry said, “is a natural laboratory and we disrespect it at our peril.”
The proposed U.S.-New Zealand Marine Protected Area would measure about 890,000 square miles or 2.3 million square kilometers, roughly three and a half times the size of Texas and almost nine times the size of New Zealand. It would include an area of about 612,000 square miles, (1.6 million square kilometers), almost four times the size of California, where fishing would be banned, said Moore, the New Zealand ambassador.