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Sydney (AFP) – New Zealand said on Saturday it remained optimistic about the creation of a sanctuary to protect Antarctica’s ocean wilderness, despite the failure of multi-national talks to agree the plan.
While voicing disappointment, New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said that consensus was building after proposals for two huge marine protection zones were knocked back at a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
New Zealand and the United States had led a push for a Ross Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA) at the talks in the Australian city of Hobart, which ended Friday, but failed to win unanimous support from CCAMLR — a group comprising 24 nations and the European Union.
“The Ross Sea region MPA proposal continued to gather support at this year’s CCAMLR meeting in Hobart. All countries were at the table and negotiating,” McCully said in a statement.
“Getting every country in CCAMLR to agree was always going to be a challenge, but the growing momentum behind the proposal gives real reason to hope that the last few reluctant members will eventually offer their support.”
It was the third time that the proposals had failed at the CCAMLR, which requires all members to agree.
The latest outcome follows changes to the Ross Sea proposal which reduced its size, but it still did not win over Russia and Ukraine which are believed to have objected to the limitations on fishing.
“We have made huge strides since last October when the proposal was first presented,” said McCully.
“Many more countries now actively support the proposal in its revised form.”
McCully said New Zealand would continue to work with other CCAMLR members and the proposal will be presented again at the 2014 meeting.
“The Ross Sea region is one of the most pristine natural environments in the world and New Zealand will continue its fight to protect it,” he said.
Conservationists expressed disappointment at the failure to agree to the sanctuaries which would have protected ocean wilderness that is home to 16,000 known species, including whales, seals, albatrosses, penguins and unique species of fish.
The US-New Zealand bid for a sanctuary in the Ross Sea, the deep bay on Antarctica’s Pacific side, had been considered the best hope after its size was reduced, with its no-fish zone to be 1.25 million square kilometres (480,000 square miles).
The second proposal called for a 1.6 million square kilometre protected zone off East Antarctica, on the frozen continent’s Indian Ocean side.
Their creation would together make the largest marine protection areas in the world.
“CCAMLR does not meet again for another year, and each meeting without designating marine protection diminishes hopes that CCAMLR can meet its important commitments,” said Steve Campbell from the Antarctic Ocean Alliance coalition which supports conservation.