News Article | February 15, 2017
Joining effort to assist in creation of the Whale Protection Zone SEATTLE,WA--(Marketwired - February 15, 2017) - Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance is honored to have Dr. Roger Payne, Founder/President, Ocean Alliance, join its advisory board. Dr. Payne's extensive expertise in understanding both whale songs and how to safely study the health of an ailing whale population, will be an asset to the board as Orca Relief continues to seek support of their petition for the Whale Protection Zone Proposition. Together with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Project Seawolf, Orca Relief is a co-sponsor of The Whale Protection Zone Proposition now before the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which just added the WPZ to the Federal Register, opening a 90-day period for public comment through the Administrative Procedure Act process. "Having reviewed Orca Relief's regulatory petition, Ocean Alliance supports the request to establish a Whale Protection Zone as well as regulatory efforts designed to increase salmon populations and reduce contaminant loads. I am writing to request that you start the process of creating a Whale Protection Zone as soon as possible. I worry that without such intervention these whales may not have a survivable future," said Dr. Roger Payne in his letter to National Marine Fisheries Service's Seattle Branch Chief of Protected Resources Division, Lynne Barre. "Roger Payne is widely agreed to be the most famous whale scientist and conservation biologist in the world. We are honored and delighted that he is not only supporting the Whale Protection Zone, but also joining Orca Relief, as we work to save this endangered population of local killer whales. His presence on our advisory board, together with that of Christopher Clark, should indicate to all who are concerned about these whales that the WPZ is based upon the best available science, in both conservation and acoustics," said Mark Anderson, Founder of Orca Relief; CEO and Chairman of Strategic News Service; and Founder and Chairman of Future in Review Conference. Citizens and groups interested in voicing their support for the Whale Protection Zone should send a comment to NOAA (https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=NOAA-NMFS-2016-0152-0001) before April 13, 2017. Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance is a volunteer-driven 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization focused on recovering the population health of the endangered southern resident killer whales (SRKWs) of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. Orca Relief relies on the best available science to demonstrate what must be done to protect and recover J, K, and L pods, particularly from the noise and stress they experience from the commercial motorized whale watch boats and the many private boats they attract. We are dedicated to creating a Whale Protection Zone on the west side of San Juan Island, Washington state to provide a safe haven that will assist Puget Sound's endangered Orca in their recovery.
News Article | November 4, 2015
Reproducibility A suite of measures should be adopted to improve the reproducibility of biomedical research, according to a report released on 29 October by the London-based Academy of Medical Sciences. The report — produced with the backing of government funders and biomedical-research charity the Wellcome Trust — says that greater openness, preregistration of research protocols and better use of standards should all be considered, although there is no single cause of the problem of many studies being irreproducible. See go.nature.com/cwynyx for more. Ozone-hole latest This year’s hole in the Antarctic ozone layer is the third largest ever observed, the World Meteorological Organization announced on 29 October. The hole’s average size over 30 consecutive days spanning September and October was 26.9 million square kilometres, the largest on record after 2000 and 2006. The agency ascribes the increased size to colder-than-usual temperatures in the polar stratosphere. That drove the formation of more clouds on whose surfaces chlorine can readily convert to a form that destroys ozone. In the long term, the ozone layer is still expected to recover, because the 1987 Montreal Protocol phased out many chemicals that contribute to its destruction. Chronic fatigue The US National Institutes of Health is stepping up efforts to tackle chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). In an announcement on 29 October, the agency said that it would be centring its CFS/ME research programme in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Its plans include a clinical study on its campus in Bethesda, Maryland, that will enrol patients with sudden-onset CFS/ME apparently caused by an infection. Cassini dips into geysers NASA’s Cassini spacecraft took its deepest dive through the geysers spurting from Saturn’s moon Enceladus on 28 October. The mission whizzed 50 kilometres above Enceladus’s south pole (pictured, bottom), directly through the icy spray coming from an ocean of liquid water trapped beneath a thick layer of fractured ice. It was the most direct taste of the water that Cassini’s chemical-analysis sensors will ever get; in the final fly-by in December, the spacecraft will bypass the geysers. EPA versus VW The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a second notice of violation against car manufacturer Volkswagen (VW) over allegations that the company installed a device to circumvent emission standards in some of its vehicles. The 2 November notice adds further car models to those listed on the notice from 18 September. VW previously admitted using ‘defeat devices’ to lower emissions during laboratory tests in some vehicles (see Nature http://doi.org/723; 2015). One-child rule ends All couples in China will in future be allowed to have two children, rather than one, the Communist Party announced on 29 October. But demographers predict little effect on population growth in China, where many women are more focused on a career than on having large families. The one-child rule was introduced in 1979 and is thought to have prevented almost half a billion births in a nation whose population now numbers 1.4 billion. In recent years the rule had been relaxed. See go.nature.com/skdr1n for more. Pathogen rules In the wake of a series of high-profile laboratory accidents in 2014, the White House issued a 187-page set of recommendations on 29 October for government agencies that work with dangerous pathogens. They include improvements to rules for reporting lab accidents and maintaining records. Antarctic veto The body that governs Antarctica’s waters again failed to agree on plans for a protected area in the Ross Sea. The Commission for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources, meeting in Hobart, Australia, last week, has repeatedly considered the proposals but failed to reach the unanimous agreement among nations needed to create the area. The Antarctic Ocean Alliance, a coalition of non-governmental organizations, criticized the failure to protect the Ross Sea and another proposed area in East Antarctica. GM opt-out block The European Parliament has rejected a proposal that would allow European Union member states to restrict the importation of genetically modified (GM) feeds and foods that have been approved at EU level. In the 28 October vote, members argued that opting out of EU-wide agreements to allow the sale of GM food was incompatible with the EU’s single market. The European Commission tabled the proposal in April after it was agreed that EU member states could opt out of cultivating GM crops, which 19 of the 28 states have done so far. Indian protest Researchers in India have issued a warning over religious intolerance in the country. On 27 October, the Inter-Academy Panel on Ethics in Science, a body set up by the Indian National Science Academy in New Delhi, the Indian Academy of Sciences in Bangalore and the National Academy of Sciences in Allahabad, warned that recent events run counter to the country’s constitutional requirement to “uphold reason and scientific temper”. The statement follows the killing of three advocates of rational thinking, as well as other cases of violence linked to religious motives. An online petition voicing similar concerns was launched on 22 October. See page 20 for more. Arecibo future The US National Science Foundation (NSF) is seeking new management or new ownership for the Arecibo Observatory (pictured), it said in a 26 October notice. The future of the facility, the largest single-dish radio telescope on Earth, in Puerto Rico, has been in doubt for years. But the NSF, which provides roughly 75% of Arecibo’s roughly US$12-million budget, says that it is interested in options “that involve a substantially reduced funding commitment from NSF”. Astronomers use the facility to study pulsars and the upper atmosphere and to help measure the risk posed by near-Earth asteroids. Brain project The European Commission signed a partnership agreement with the ambitious but controversial Human Brain Project (HBP) on 30 October. The agreement will take the project into its fully operational phase that begins next April, when the HBP will become an international organization intended to be a permanent infrastructure resource for neuroscientists. The management of the project has been modified following serious criticism by some neuroscientists during its start-up phase. See go.nature.com/qybrng for more. Maddox prize The 2015 John Maddox Prize was awarded to Edzard Ernst and Susan Jebb on 3 November. Ernst, emeritus researcher at the University of Exeter, UK, was given the prize for his work on the truth, or lack thereof, in claims about complementary and alternative medicine. Jebb, a researcher at the University of Oxford, UK, received the prize for her work in furthering public understanding of nutrition. The prize for promoting science in the face of adversity is awarded jointly by Nature and the London-based charities the Kohn Foundation and Sense About Science. It is named after the late John Maddox, a former editor of Nature. Digitized lives Lauded bioinformatician Jun Wang, who stepped down in July from his post as chief executive of the world’s largest genome-sequencing organization, BGI, in Shenzhen, has now launched his own company. Wang held an opening ceremony for the firm, called iCarbonX, in Shenzhen on 27 October. He says that the artificial-intelligence company will become a “Google for biotech” by collecting and analysing genomic, proteomic and other data from 1 million people. He plans to start recruiting within six months and to have a prototype platform in 3–5 years that will connect individual consumers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and other organizations. Scientist sacked Tsinghua University in Beijing confirmed to Nature on 2 November that it dismissed neuroscientist Zhang Sheng-jia following a controversy over a protein that senses magnetism. In September, Zhang reported manipulating neurons in worms by applying a magnetic field to the protein. A researcher at neighbouring Peking University who claims to have discovered the protein’s magnetic-sensing capability and was in the middle of publishing his own results complained that Zhang had published his paper first. Tsinghua University has not yet specified a reason for Zhang’s dismissal. Zhang denies that there is anything wrong with his paper, questions the procedure that led to his dismissal and says that he will file a rebuttal. Women in developing nations are challenging the gender bias often found in engineering. A survey in 10 countries, commissioned by the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation, asked 10,000 people about their interest in engineering (see go.nature.com/khqpst). Overall, more men expressed interest than did women, but the gap was narrowest in emerging economies. In Britain, 28% of women and 58% of men showed interest, whereas the results for India were 79% for women and 85% for men.
News Article | November 10, 2016
Get your tickets for a festive night out among the aquatic surroundings of the South Carolina Aquarium at Sea Life by Starlight on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016. The sixth annual event, presented by PNC Bank, features a 1920s theme along with tasty bites from local restaurant partners, an open bar, live music, entertainment and a silent auction. All-inclusive VIP and main event tickets are available to Sea Life by Starlight, with the proceeds benefiting conservation and education programs at the Aquarium. For more information or to purchase tickets to Sea Life by Starlight, visit scaquarium.org/slbsl or call (843) 577-FISH (3474). The event is hosted by the Aquarium’s Ocean Alliance, a group of young professionals with a shared passion for education and conservation at the Aquarium. Sea Life by Starlight is presented by PNC Bank. Supporting sponsors include: Diamonds Direct, CNT Foundations, Starkey Mortgage, Charleston Magazine and EventHaus. For all media inquiries, please contact Kate Dittloff at (843) 579-8660 or kdittloff(at)scaquarium(dot)org. About the South Carolina Aquarium: The South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston’s most visited attraction, features thousands of amazing aquatic animals from river otters and sharks to loggerhead turtles in more than 60 exhibits representing the rich biodiversity of South Carolina from the mountains to the sea. Dedicated to promoting education and conservation, the Aquarium also presents fabulous views of Charleston Harbor and interactive exhibits and programs for visitors of all ages. The South Carolina Aquarium is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Aquarium is closed Thanksgiving Day, half day Dec. 24 (open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and Dec. 25. Admission prices are: Toddlers (2 and under) free; Youth (3-12) $17.95; Adults (13+) $24.95. For more information call (843) 720-1990 or visit scaquarium.org. Memberships are available by calling (843) 577-FISH.
News Article | November 2, 2016
It is a milestone for ocean conservation and Russia’s relationship with the rest of the world. After years of unsuccessful talks, 24 nations and the European Union agreed on 28 October to create the largest marine reserve in the world, around twice the size of Texas, in the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica. The international deal takes effect in December 2017 and will set aside 1.55 million square kilometres of the Ross Sea, a deep Antarctic bay 3,500 kilometres south of New Zealand, from commercial fishing and mineral exploitation. It is the first time that countries have joined together to protect a major chunk of the high seas — the areas of ocean that are largely unregulated because they do not fall under the jurisdiction of any one nation. Signed by members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) amid cheering and applause at a meeting in Hobart, Australia, the deal became possible because of assent from Russia, which had long blocked the agreement. “Russian support of any agreement is a very positive signal in the current political situation,” says Peter Jones, a specialist on marine environmental governance at University College London. Scientists hope now to see an acceleration of international marine-protection efforts around the globe, in particular, other ecologically precious regions around Antarctica. The designated reserve is a “first dent into the notion that we can’t do anything to protect the high seas”, says Daniel Pauly, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who has long sounded the alarm over the state of the world's oceans and declining fish harvests. Members of the CCAMLR had discussed the Ross Sea proposal since it was made by the United States and New Zealand in 2012. Observers think that Russia’s change of heart might have been the result of intense, behind-the-scene discussions on the issue in recent months between US secretary of state, John Kerry, and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. In politically turbulent times, Russia is “pleased to be part of this collaborative international effort”, Sergei Ivanov, special representative on ecology to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, told the BBC. Although still relatively healthy, the Ross Sea has experienced a growth in fishing, which has begun to decimate stocks of the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni), a predator. Also in decline is the Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), a shrimp-like crustacean that is one of the largest protein sources on Earth and a key creature in the marine food web off Antarctica. The deal includes some compromises. These might have been necessary to winning the support of Russia, which operates a large fishing fleet in the region, says Jones. Most of the reserve — 1,117,000 km2 — will be closed to all commercial marine activities. But a further 322,000 km2 “krill research zone” will allow controlled fishing, known as “research fishing” and another 110,000 km2 will be a "special research zone” open for limited fishing of both krill and toothfish. This means that although the total area of the marine reserve is bigger than the next largest — Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument near Hawaii — the area that is completely restricted is slightly smaller. And for now, a ‘sunset clause’ specifies that the designated zone expires in 35 years, meaning it would not fully qualify as a marine protected area (MPA) under the strict rules set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “We do regret this,” says Mike Walker, project director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, a campaign group, in Washington DC. “But we are confident that decision-makers will come to realize that the best way to conserve the ocean is to protect it forever.” On the whole, scientists reacted enthusiastically to the decision. “This is unprecedented protection for the Southern Ocean,” says Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, a marine biologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis. The Ross Sea contains one of the least-altered ecosystems on Earth, she says. But that ecosystem is vulnerable to human disturbance and the effects of climate change. “Setting aside an area free from fishing stresses in this marine reserve provides a reference point and a place for research to evaluate how systems respond to climate change and to learn how to foster resilience,” she says. “It means we will protect one of the last parts of the world with a functioning natural ecosystem, with a complete array of marine mammals, seabirds and other marine life,” adds Pauly. But others caution that ocean protection zones alone will not stop the decline in marine biodiversity, and do not provide a solution to overfishing because they may just move fishing to another spot. “If fishing is the problem then they should reduce fishing pressure, not move it around,” says Ray Hilborn, a fisheries specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle. “Indeed, MPA might also stand for ‘Move Problems Elsewhere’.” The CCAMLR will discuss further proposals next year to create protected zones of roughly similar size off the coast of East Antarctica and in the Weddell Sea. Chile and Argentina, meanwhile, are working on a proposal to protect the high seas surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula, the most rapidly warming part of the frozen continent.
News Article | July 17, 2015
Ocean Alliance has been at the forefront of marine mammal research for over 40 years, and now the nonprofit organization has announced its latest contribution to marine life research and innovation. The organization revealed the Snotbot, a drone that will collect biological data without harassing the animals. To reveal its latest project, the organization has used the talents of Sir Patrick Stewart in a new Kickstarter campaign. The Snotbot drones will collect physical data from whales, using new tools developed to make it possible to collect such data. Since Stewart is a supporter of the nonprofit and one of its trustees, he lent his time to help explain what exactly Snotbot is. Created in a partnership between Ocean Alliance and Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, a Snotbot is a custom-built drone designed to hover safely over a whale to collect samples of the blow that is exhaled from the mammal's lungs. The blow, or snot, is a lung lining sample that gives researchers important data such as DNA, pregnancy hormone levels, stress levels, insights into any virus and bacteria present, as well as what toxins have entered the whale's body. To collect this data, researchers previously chased whales in the wild in motorboats to then shoot them with a dart. The loud sounds of the motorboat put stress on the mammals, which could lead to inaccurate data such as increased stress levels. Using a noninvasive drone from a safe distance from the whales allows researchers to receive more accurate data without having to even touch the whale. While the drone can help researchers learn more about whales in their natural environment, it is also more economical since there is less need for expensive vessels and costly research logistics. The drones can travel fast, collect data with less effort, and reduced risks for the whales and researchers. The Snotbots return the samples back to researchers about a half-mile away. Ocean Alliance has tested the drone already, and plans to use Snotbot to collect data in three locations: Peninsular Valdez Patagonia, off South America; the Sea of Cortez, off the coast of Mexico and the Baja peninsula; and Southeast Alaska / Frederick Sound. If Stewart supports Snotbot for whale research, then you could too by backing Ocean Alliance in its Kickstarter campaign. The money this project receives will go to funding research to study the southern right whale, sperm whales and humpback whales, along with other marine life, to learn more about them and compare the data with previously collected data to prove the hypothesis that this form of sampling could produce more accurate results. Those who pledge $250 will receive a signed copy of the Whales IMAX DVD narrated by Stewart. Thus far, the campaign earned almost $2,000 of its $225,000 goal with less than 40 days to go.
News Article | October 29, 2016
'Hey, where did everyone go?' A lone penguin navigates the icy waters of the Ross Sea(Credit: John Weller) Not a week goes by where we don't hear about the impending extinction of another species, so here's something positive for a change: after six years of diplomatic impasse, the countries that determine the fate of Antarctica's waters have finally reached a historic agreement to declare the Ross Sea an official Marine Protected Area, making it the world's largest protected marine area and the first time that multiple countries have worked together to protect an area that falls outside the jurisdiction of any one country. Covering 1.55 million square km (598,458 sq miles) – about twice the size of Texas – the Ross Sea is often called the Last Ocean or the Serengeti of the Antarctic, owing to its pristine ecosystem. For a long time, its remote location buffered it from human activities, such as overfishing and pollution, which have plagued other oceans, thus enabling an incredibly diverse and near-pristine marine ecosystem to flourish. Thanks to its nutrient-rich waters, over 10,000 species, including orcas, minke whales, seals, and a sizeable number of the world's Adélie and emperor penguins, call the Ross Sea home. Here, scientific data goes as far back as 170 years, making it an invaluable resource for scientists studying the effects of climate change on ecosystems. In recent years, however, commercial fishing trawlers have started encroaching upon the Ross Sea's idyllic existence owing to the abundance of toothfish (which is marketed as Chilean Sea Bass in restaurants) in its waters. The watershed agreement, which was ratified this Friday by the members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), seeks to protect the Ross Sea from the perils of commercial fishing. When it comes into effect in December 2017, 72 percent of the reserve will be a "no-take" zone, which forbids all fishing. There will also be limits placed on krill fishing for the next five years to protect the Antarctic ecosystem. And while no changes have been made to the total tonnage of fish that can be taken from the Ross Sea, vessels will need to go farther out to sea, away from critical feeding and breeding grounds. The deal, which was brokered by New Zealand and the US, became a reality after Russia, which had been the last holdout owing to concerns over the impact of the agreement on its fishing industries, finally came on board with the other 24 member countries and the EU after concessions were made. While this agreement has been hailed as a hard-won victory for diplomacy and the environment, its 35-year protection limit has raised concerns in some quarters. "The limited 35-year restriction for protection of the Ross Sea contradicts the scientific advice that marine protection should be long-term," said Mike Walker, Project Director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance. "It's critical to set aside these really epic spots for diversity, not just as marine parks but as places that can build resistance to the changing climate," added WWF Australia Ocean Science Manager Chris Johnson in an interview with CNN. Nevertheless for all involved, this is a positive first step forward, especially considering the time and effort it's taken to get to this point. "The creation of the Ross Sea MPA is an extraordinary step forward for marine protection," said US Secretary of State John Kerry in a press statement. "[It] will safeguard one of the last unspoiled ocean wilderness areas on the planet … [and] is designed to be a natural laboratory for valuable scientific research to increase our understanding of the impact of climate change and fishing on the ocean and its resources."
News Article | October 30, 2015
Environmentalists say the Antarctic Ocean is home to more than 10,000 unique species, including penguins, whales, seals and colossal squid (AFP Photo/Vanderlei Almeida) More International efforts to create two vast marine sanctuaries to protect the pristine wilderness of Antarctica failed Friday for the fifth time, but delegates said China's support for one reserve and Russia's commitment to further talks gave them hope. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meeting closed Friday with no agreement on the two proposed areas, designed to protect species including whales and penguins. Officials said China had at the last minute indicated it would support one of these reserves in the Ross Sea, which is known as the "Last Ocean" because it is considered the only intact marine ecosystem left on Earth. But it was ultimately blocked by Russia, which along with China also stopped a proposal for a marine protected zone in the East Antarctic coastal region, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance of environmental groups said. "It is appalling that while the majority of CCAMLR members are more than ready to create significant marine protected areas in Antarctic waters, China and Russia have blocked efforts to negotiate a successful outcome," said the alliance's Jill Hepp. Both proposals have now been shot down five times at the annual CCAMLR meetings, which require consensus from all 24 members countries and the European Union to progress. But delegates welcomed China's support for the Ross Sea sanctuary, which it had blocked in previous years, saying it made a future deal more likely. "That's important because now only one country remains that isn't supportive and so we're closer. This is an important country to have gotten on board," head of the US delegation Evan Bloom told AFP. New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully also welcomed China's support as a "major step", saying the proposal was designed to balance scientific, environmental and fishing interests. "We also welcome Russia's statement that it is open to working with members on the MPA ahead of the next CCAMLR meeting in 2016," he said. The head of the Russian delegation could not be reached and the foreign ministry in Moscow declined to comment, as did the Chinese foreign ministry. The US and New Zealand-backed Ross Sea proposal was this year enlarged to more than 1.5 million square kilometres (600,000 square miles) although the overall no fishing zone was slightly reduced to about 1.1 million square kilometres. The second proposed protected area, the Australia, France and EU-backed East Antarctica sanctuary, is for a one million square kilometre zone over four areas where some fishing and research would be allowed, with environmental restrictions. Both reserve proposals have been on the table with CCAMLR -- a treaty tasked with overseeing conservation and sustainable exploitation of the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean -- since 2011. Each has been modified as members have debated how to manage the region, which environmentalists say is home to more than 10,000 unique species, including seals and colossal squid. It is also critical for scientific research. Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts, said she took hope from China's change of direction and the fact that Russia had said it was willing to work with other members on the proposals. "This is a stunning accomplishment to come out of this particular meeting when there was so much disagreement and dissention on the floor," she told AFP. Ultimately, however, she said the talks were a replay of the previous four meetings, bringing no relief for the millions of animals that live in Antarctic waters. "What is most disturbing about this year's failure is the systematic disintegration of CCAMLR's ability to deliver on its mandate for marine protection," said Mark Epstein, executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. The failure of the Antarctic deals came after New Zealand, Chile and the Pacific state of Palau have recently announced new marine protection zones.
News Article | October 28, 2016
The deal, sealed by the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) at an annual meeting in Hobart after years of negotiations, will see a massive US and New Zealand-backed marine protected area established in the Ross Sea. It will cover more than 1.55 million square kilometres (600,000 square miles)—roughly the size of Britain, Germany and France combined—of which 1.12 million square kilometres will be a no fishing zone. "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," New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said. "The boundaries of the MPA, however, remain unchanged." The Ross Sea is one of the last intact marine ecosystems in the world, home to penguins, seals, Antarctic toothfish, whales and huge numbers of krill, a staple food for many species. It is considered critical for scientists to study how marine ecosystems function and to understand the impacts of climate change on the ocean. Moscow was the last government opposing the move, largely due to concerns over fishing rights, after China offered its support last year. "We had a lot of talks with them. Secretary (John) Kerry reached out to Russian President (Vladimir) Putin and (Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov and I think that helped a great deal to convince Russia to come on board," Evan Bloom, head of the US delegation at the meeting, told AFP. "This decision is very important not just for the Antarctic but for efforts to promote world marine conservation." Moscow has signalled more commitment to conservation in recent times, designating 2017 as the Year of Ecology. It moved in August to significantly increase the size of a protected zone around Franz Josef Land in the Arctic. While the Ross Sea plan got the go-ahead, time ran out at the meeting to reach agreement on a second proposed protected area—the Australia and France-led East Antarctica sanctuary covering another one million square kilometre zone. Both reserve proposals have been on the table since 2012 with CCAMLR—a treaty tasked with overseeing conservation and sustainable exploitation of the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean. Consensus is needed from all 24 member countries and the European Union. A third German-proposed plan is also in the works to protect the Weddell Sea, which extends from the southeast of South America over an area of some 2.8 million square kilometres. "For the first time, countries have put aside their differences to protect a large area of the Southern Ocean and international waters," said Mike Walker, project director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, calling the outcome "momentous". "Although there was not a decision on the proposed protection of the Weddell Sea and the East Antarctic this year, we are confident that these areas will be protected in the coming years, adding to the system of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean." The Ross Sea is named after British explorer Sir James Ross and his great, great, great granddaughter Phillipa Ross said the family was thrilled it was safeguarded. "The Ross family are euphoric that our family legacy has been honoured in the 175th anniversary year since James first discovered the Ross Sea, thanks to the individuals and organisations who have poured their hearts and souls into campaigning for its protection," she said. It culminates years of pressure by conservationists, including a campaign by the global civic movement Avaaz which was kickstarted by Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio. "There's massive momentum in the world right now to protect our oceans," said Avaaz campaign director Luis Morago. "The Ross Sea is just the start."
News Article | October 28, 2016
Antartica is considered critical for scientists to study how marine ecosystems function and to understand the impacts of climate change on the ocean (AFP Photo/Rodrigo Arangua) Sydney (AFP) - The world's largest marine reserve aimed at protecting the pristine wilderness of Antarctica will be created after a "momentous" agreement was finally reached Friday, with Russia dropping its long-held opposition. The deal, sealed by the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) at an annual meeting in Hobart after years of negotiations, will see a massive US and New Zealand-backed marine protected area established in the Ross Sea. It will cover more than 1.55 million square kilometres (600,000 square miles) -- roughly the size of Britain, Germany and France combined -- of which 1.12 million square kilometres will be a no fishing zone. "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," New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said. "The boundaries of the MPA, however, remain unchanged." The Ross Sea is one of the last intact marine ecosystems in the world, home to penguins, seals, Antarctic toothfish, whales and huge numbers of krill, a staple food for many species. It is considered critical for scientists to study how marine ecosystems function and to understand the impacts of climate change on the ocean. Moscow was the last government opposing the move, largely due to concerns over fishing rights, after China offered its support last year. "We had a lot of talks with them. Secretary (John) Kerry reached out to Russian President (Vladimir) Putin and (Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov and I think that helped a great deal to convince Russia to come on board," Evan Bloom, head of the US delegation at the meeting, told AFP. "This decision is very important not just for the Antarctic but for efforts to promote world marine conservation." Moscow has signalled more commitment to conservation in recent times, designating 2017 as the Year of Ecology. It moved in August to significantly increase the size of a protected zone around Franz Josef Land in the Arctic. While the Ross Sea plan got the go-ahead, time ran out at the meeting to reach agreement on a second proposed protected area -- the Australia and France-led East Antarctica sanctuary covering another one million square kilometre zone. Both reserve proposals have been on the table since 2012 with CCAMLR -- a treaty tasked with overseeing conservation and sustainable exploitation of the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean. Consensus is needed from all 24 member countries and the European Union. A third German-proposed plan is also in the works to protect the Weddell Sea, which extends from the southeast of South America over an area of some 2.8 million square kilometres. "For the first time, countries have put aside their differences to protect a large area of the Southern Ocean and international waters," said Mike Walker, project director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, calling the outcome "momentous". "Although there was not a decision on the proposed protection of the Weddell Sea and the East Antarctic this year, we are confident that these areas will be protected in the coming years, adding to the system of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean." The Ross Sea is named after British explorer Sir James Ross and his great, great, great granddaughter Phillipa Ross said the family was thrilled it was safeguarded. "The Ross family are euphoric that our family legacy has been honoured in the 175th anniversary year since James first discovered the Ross Sea, thanks to the individuals and organisations who have poured their hearts and souls into campaigning for its protection," she said. It culminates years of pressure by conservationists, including a campaign by the global civic movement Avaaz which was kickstarted by Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio. "There’s massive momentum in the world right now to protect our oceans," said Avaaz campaign director Luis Morago. "The Ross Sea is just the start."
News Article | October 27, 2016
Campaigners believe a proposal to establish a vast marine reserve in the seas around Antarctica will finally be accepted this week. An international commission is looking to safeguard a massive section of the Ross Sea, home to penguins, petrels and killer whales. The proposed marine protected area (MPA) would ban fishing and drilling in a region dubbed "the last ocean". Experts say it could set a precedent for other areas of the high seas. Consisting of 24 countries plus the European Union, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was established in 1980 with a mission to protect the common resources of the Southern Ocean. While Antarctica itself is protected by the Madrid Protocol which declares the region a "natural reserve, devoted to peace and science", the surrounding waters have increasingly become the focus for commercial fishing fleets, attracted by vast quantities of krill and toothfish. One of the first attempts to limit these activities came from the UK which proposed the creation of the South Orkney Marine Protected Area at CCAMLR in 2009. While this was successful in limiting fishing in an area of some 94,000 sq km around the South Orkneys, attempts since then to give protection to much larger bodies of water around Antarctica have become bogged down in political disputes. At the end of negotiations last year, Russia was seen as the one country holding out against a consensus on the Ross Sea. Other proposal for MPAs in East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea are also on the table this year but there is a growing belief that Russia will support the Ross Sea option this time round. President Putin has designated 2017 as the Year of Ecology and the country has recently expanded an MPA around Franz Josef Land in the Arctic. "People have come into it feeling very positive that this could be the year," said Cassandra Brooks, a phd student at Stanford University who has recently published a study on the workings of CCAMLR. "Despite the US and Russian tensions in other parts of the world, historically countries have worked wonders in the Antarctic and I hope this will be a case where we see science and diplomacy working." While the Ross Sea, its shelf and slope only comprise 2% of the Southern Ocean they are home to 38% of the world's Adelie penguins, 30% of the world's Antarctic petrels and around 6% of the world's population of Antarctic minke whales. The region is important to the rest of the planet as the upwelling of nutrients from the deep waters encounter currents which carry them around the world. Krill are a staple food for species including whales and seals, and their oil is critical for salmon farming. However there are concerns that overfishing and climate change are having significant impacts on their numbers. The current proposal, introduced by New Zealand and the US, would see a general protection "no-take" zone where nothing could be removed including marine life and minerals. There would also be special zones where fishing from krill and toothfish would be allowed for research purposes. "Right now, 24 countries and the EU are negotiating what could be the first-ever large-scale marine sanctuary in international waters," said Mike Walker, from the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, a coalition of environmental campaigners. "An agreement would be an historic move to protect the ocean," he said. One of the key questions in the negotiations is how long the MPA should last. China is on the record as stating it believes that 20 years is long enough. Many conservationists say this is far too short, given the lifespan of creatures that life in the Ross Sea, such as whales. "We'll see what it is," said Cassandra Brooks. "It will have value for the times it's in place but can it meet its objectives in such a short duration? That's something that a lot of people are worried about." One of the other big concerns that could halt the Ross Sea proposal is the fact that it might set a precedent for other high seas negotiations around the world, such as in the Arctic and in attempts by the UN to develop a new marine biodiversity treaty. "For some states it comes down to economics, for others it is about setting a precedent," said Cassandra Brooks. "For others it might be cultural, a lot of people might say that MPAs are a very western thing so there could be some breakdown there. "I am optimistic, sometimes it just takes time and the political window of opportunity - are we in that? It remains to be seen." Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathBBC and on Facebook.