After five years of protracted negotiations, and tireless efforts by endurance swimmer and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Patron of the Oceans, Lewis Pugh, the Ross Sea in Antarctica was finally declared a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in October 2016.
At the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), delegates from 24 nations and the European Union have voted unanimously to create the world’s largest protected area on land or sea. This historic occasion marks the first time a large-scale marine protected area has been established in the High Seas.
The Ross Sea is widely considered to be the last great wilderness on Earth and known as the polar ‘Garden of Eden’.Its 1.57 million square km area, larger than the UK, France, Germany and Italy together, is home to 50 per cent of ecotype-C killer whales (also known as the Ross Sea orca), 40 per cent of Adélie penguins, and 25 per cent of emperor penguins.
“We are thrilled that this very special part of our planet’s oceans has been safeguarded for future generations,” said UN Environment programme head Erik Solheim. “We are especially proud of our Patron of the Oceans, Lewis Pugh, who shuttled between the nations to help find consensus. Today’s result is a testament to his determined efforts.”
“The Ross Sea is one of the most pristine marine ecosystems left on Earth, and home to many species found nowhere else,” said US scientist David Ainley, who was the first to call for a marine protected area 14 years ago. “The data collected from this ‘living laboratory’ helps us understand the significant changes taking place on Earth right now. The Ross Sea has much more value as an intact marine ecosystem than as a fishing ground.”
For the past two years, Pugh has campaigned tirelessly to protect the region. After undertaking a series of swims in the Ross Sea in February 2015 to draw attention to the issue, Pugh visited Moscow numerous times in an effort to convince Russian officials to endorse the Ross Sea protected area. Until now, Russia had blocked the proposal no less than five times.
Pugh has swum all the major seas to draw attention to marine pollution. In 2007, he swam across the North Pole to highlight the melting of Arctic sea ice. In 2010 he swam across a glacial lake on Mt Everest to draw attention to the melting glaciers in the Himalayas, and the impact the reduced water supply will have on world peace.
His efforts saw UNEP appoint him its Patron of the Oceans in 2013.