Fight to continue for Antarctic marine reserve

By John Macdonald

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully Wednesday expressed “deep disappointment” over the failure to secure an international marine reserve in the Ross sea, but vowed to keep pushing the case.

Talks on proposals for marine protected areas (MPAs) by the 26- member Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) were abandoned Tuesday after the Russian delegation questioned the CCAMLR’s legal authority to declare such reserves.

The CCAMLR special meeting in Bremerhaven, Germany, was considering two MPA proposals: a New Zealand-United States proposal for the Ross Sea region and another by Australia, France and the European Union for a network of MPAs in East Antarctica.

Reports from the meeting suggested that attempts to establish a consensus had been “scuttled by the exercise of an effective veto, ” McCully said in a statement.

“Reports from the meeting make it clear that the vast majority of CCAMLR members have been flexible and constructive in seeking consensus,” said McCully.

While “reasonable differences” could exist on the conservation, science and fisheries in a Ross Sea region MPA, it was undeniable that those differences had to be resolved through constructive dialogue.

“While that outcome has eluded us on this occasion, this debate will not simply go away. International pressure for responsible leadership will intensify and New Zealand has every intention of playing its full part in ultimately achieving the right outcome,” said McCully.

University of Canterbury law expert Professor Karen Scott said today that Russia’s legal concerns had no legal foundation as Russia had supported other marine protected areas on the high seas.

“Although there is no global instrument that provides for an explicit right to create MPAs on the high seas, a number of treaties that require states to take measures to protect ocean biodiversity arguably provide implicit support for such measures,” Scott said in a statement.

“Relevant treaties include the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1992 Biodiversity Convention. States, including Russia, have agreed to protect 10 percent of the world’s oceans by 2020 under the 2010 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. This commitment was reaffirmed by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2011.”

New Zealand and other like-minded countries had been successful in their diplomatic efforts over the last few months to persuade states such as China, Japan and South Korea to back the initiative.

As the commission only adopted conservation measures by consensus, these states would have to make further significant diplomatic efforts to allay Russia’s concerns and to persuade it to support both the Ross Sea and the East Antarctic MPA proposals before the next annual CCAMLR meeting in Hobart, Australia, in October.