The recent landmark announcement of the world’s newest and largest marine protected area (MPA) in the Ross Sea in Antarctica brought great personal joy to me and closure to an incredible journey that began ten-years ago.
In 2006 I travelled to the Ross Sea to film the wildlife with Colorado photographer John Weller. John had read a paper by US Antarctic Ecologist Dr. David Ainley, which in broad terms, described the Ross Sea as the last large intact marine ecosystem on Earth. It also warned that ecosystem was under threat from commercial fishing.
That summer Dave, John and I decided to work together to raise awareness of the Ross Sea and to fight for its protection. Given that 99% of people didn’t know where the Ross Sea was or why it was special, this was a very daunting task. We rallied up and down our countries spreading the word from community halls to the corridors of power, slowly but surely building a ‘last ocean’ community.
The announcement of the MPA is a great reward for the thousands of people all over the world who have supported this cause. Although it doesn’t include the level of protection we initially hoped for, when you consider that 25 nations had to agree to its terms, it is a wonderful victory. It is a giant step in the right direction and provides huge potential and opportunity, especially for the people of Christchurch.
The new MPA is protecting one of the most pristine marine ecosystems on Earth. Almost every other ocean has been damaged by human activity, whether it be commercial fishing, pollution, industry or settlement, but the Ross Sea by its sheer distance from civilisation, remains relatively untouched and intact.
Along with its pristine qualities, the Ross Sea is the most productive stretch of water in the Southern Ocean. It teems with life, with many species found nowhere else on the planet. While it makes up only 2% of the Southern Ocean, it is home to 50% of Ross Sea killer whales, 40% of the world’s Adelie penguins, 30% of Antarctic petrels and 25% of all emperor penguins, just to name a few.
The food-web is unique. Here, top predators still abound in large numbers, as they did in all the world’s oceans before humans came on the scene. Scientists refer to it as a ‘living laboratory’, a place that allows us to understand the workings of all marine ecosystems.
Promoting Christchurch as the gateway to this ‘Serengeti of the South’ for education, science, research and tourism are just a few ways we can benefit from having this treasure on our doorstep. Take photos, create ambassadors and enjoy one of the last bastions of the natural world. If we share this treasure, while providing responsible guardianship, over time as the world becomes more crowded and crazy, the Ross Sea will become more and more valuable.
Commercial fishing still continues in the Ross Sea. For me that remains a blight because, if you cast your eye a little further than a fishing line, you will see that by removing a top predator – in this case 50% of the Antarctic toothfish – you will destroy the natural balance of the Ross Sea ecosystem. Having said that, I understand that for CCAMLR*, the international governing body, to reach a consensus with so many different agendas, cultural values and economies, required compromise and some very skillful negotiating.
Creating the Ross Sea MPA is a remarkable achievement that is to be celebrated. It is a credit to both the New Zealand and US governments who have persevered with this proposal for the past five years.
But what makes this so special for me is that five years before the proposal reached CCMALR’s table, there was a building groundswell of public support and awareness, and I have no doubt that this played a huge part in Friday’s outcome. A movement that was run out of a garages, powered by people and ended up promoting real and significant change.
This reserve is a testament to the many people who worked to bring the Ross Sea to the attention of the world: the large number of Last Ocean supporters, the Ross Sea scientists and experts who gave their time freely, the NGOs that came together in the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, the politicians who listened, the delegations that negotiated long and hard, and the nations sitting around the table at CCAMLR. In a time of great global conflict, it offers a welcome ray of light.
Through our combined efforts we will leave future generations the ultimate gift: a corner of the world where nature prevails. And while most will never visit the Ross Sea and see it first hand, I hope simply knowing that such places exist will bring joy to many.
(*The Commission for the Conservation of Living Marine Resources)
Information about the work of The Last Ocean team can be found here.
Information about The Last Ocean film, including where you can buy this multiple award-winning documentary, can be found here.
The Last Ocean (film) lifts the lid on commercial fishing in the most pristine marine ecosystem on Earth, the Ross Sea, Antarctica, and follows the fight to protect this last untouched ocean from humanity’s insatiable appetite for fish.
“Spectacular, informative, and urgent”
“Through Peter Young’s lens, the Antarctic looks wild and wonderful” – Graeme Tuckett, Dominion Post