Ross Sea: Antarctic Marine Protection Comes into force on 1 December 2017

ECO Vice-Chair and long-time Antarctic campaigner Cath Wallace previews the new protections for the Antarctic which come into force this Friday, 1st December:C Wallace


The Ross Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA) comes into force on 1 December.  The Ross Sea MPA will give varying measures of protection to an area of over 1.55 million square kilometres of the Ross Sea in the Southern Ocean which surrounds Antarctica.  The MPA includes the Ross ice shelf which would increase the MPA to nearly 2 million square kilometres.

This major gain of marine protection in the Southern Ocean was agreed at the October 2016 Antarctic marine convention (CCAMLR) meeting.  It reflects the combined efforts of New Zealand and the United States and many supporters globally.

The proposal for a series of 19 marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean was originally developed and campaigned for by the Antarctic and Southern Oceans Coalition (ASOC) with the Antarctic Oceans Alliance.  ECO is a long-term member of both organisations.  These introduced the idea of protection of the whole of the Ross Sea, drawing on science by a scientific group led by Halpern that showed it to be the most intact ocean ecosystem left globally.

The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, (CCAMLR) embarked over 10 years ago on a process to establish a network of representative marine protected areas.  This network has so far only got two MPAs including the Ross Sea.

The Ross Sea MPA is large, though not as big as proposed by ASOC because of pressure from fishing interests and governments that did not want to protect the whole area.

Of the area protected over 1.12 million square kilometres will be fully protected from commercial fishing with the remaining protected area is designated as special research zone (SRZ).  Some areas outside the MPA are open to commercial toothfish fishing, including some that were previously not open for this purpose.

AOA01317 Antartic Report_map Ross Sea MPA

It is disappointing that so-called commercial “research fishing” has been allowed in the Special Research Zone and that the northern tooth fish spawning banks and the eastern areas of the Ross Sea are not better protected.

Another disappointment is that the new MPA expire in 35 years rather than being made permanent. Let’s hope future generations ensure that CCAMLR will recognize the value of protecting this area and will renew it in 35 years.

The Ross Sea is a special place

The Ross Sea was identified by a major international scientific study as the least modified marine ecosystem on earth. It is clearly the most important to protect.  The area includes habitat for penguins and other seabirds, killer whales, seals, many kinds of fish but particularly toothfish, and the fantastic corals, starfish, krill and bivalves, and other astonishing sea creatures that live in the Ross Sea.  The MPA will allow a great chance of surviving and functioning as an intact ecosystem with this decision.

The Ross Sea is home to 38% of the world’s Adélie penguins, 26% of Emperor penguins, more than 30% of Antarctic petrels, 6% of Antarctic minke whales, and perhaps more than 30% of “Ross Sea” type killer whales. Moreover, it has the richest diversity of fishes in the high latitude Southern Ocean, including at least seven species found nowhere else.

It is time to celebrate the combined efforts of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, and their member organisations and supporters, and the scientists, officials, politicians and diplomats for achieving a major conservation success with protection or safeguarding chunks of the Ross Sea in Antarctica.

Special acknowledgement to former Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, New Zealand’s diplomatic team led by Jillian Dempster, and the science teams.

An essential ingredient was sustained public pressure and the tenacious work of the non-governmental organisations who launched the idea, including ECO. There have been years of effort and careful diplomacy by New Zealand and the USA to achieve the result.

Particular tributes are due to movie maker, Peter Young, of Fisheye Films, who made the Last Ocean movie which raised awareness immensely.  This result is a joint effort.

ECO’s Barry Weeber was at the CCAMLR meeting that achieved this result, and he has worked for years for this result as have many others.

This year CCAMLR Scientific Committee agreed to a substantial research and monitoring plan for the MPA.  This plan was developed through joint effort of New Zealand, US and Italian scientists.

Further proposals

Progress on additional MPAs have been very slow.  Frustratingly, the proposal from Australia and the EU for protection of East Antarctic areas again failed to gain consensus at this years CCAMLR meeting. ECO hopes that careful diplomancy will see the proposal agreed at next year’s meeting.

Further proposals are being developed.  Active efforts are being undertaken in two areas -, the German efforts in the Weddell Sea, and by Argentina and Chile in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Greenpeace has launched a campaign to help support further Antarctic MPAs, in particular in the Weddell Sea and around the Antarctic Peninsula.  Greenpeace is undertaking an expedition to the peninsula this summer which will include the use of a two-person submarine to help document these special areas.

Greenpeace was a key participant in the campaign to stop mining in Antarctic in the 1980s and early 1990s.  It operated a year-round base (World Park Base) at Cape Evans in the Ross Sea from 1987 to 1992.



Sarah Thomson legal case on climate change action: can you help?

Climate change activist Jeanette Fitzsimons summarises the findings of the legal case brought in May this year to the High Court at Wellington.  Sarah challenged the then National government’s weak climate change targets.


Many readers will be aware of Sarah Thomson’s legal challenge to the National Government’s pathetic climate change target.  Although  the judge ultimately didn’t order a review of our 2050 and 2030 targets, there are still lots of wins to celebrate. Justice Mallon’s decision says:

–  the Minister had an obligation to review the 2050 target in light of recent science—in particular, the AR5 report—and failed to do so. She confirmed that ministers, whether for climate change or otherwise, have a duty to review important, long-term decisions when the science and facts underpinning those decisions change.

– contrary to the claim by the Crown’s lawyers that the 2030 target was in the realm of policy and ‘politics’, and beyond the court’s expertise, in law the 2030 target could be reviewed by the Court.  Even though setting an emissions target requires the weighing up of complicated economic, social, political and policy factors, the courts can still scrutinise such decisions.

In the judge’s own words:

The Courts have recognised the significance of the issue for the planet and its inhabitants and that those in the Court’s jurisdiction are necessarily among all who are affected by inadequate efforts to respond to climate change

…This approach is consistent with the view that justiciability concerns depend on the ground for review rather that its subject matter. The subject matter may make a review ground more difficult to establish, but it should not rule out any review by the Court.

The importance of the matter for all and each of us warrants some scrutiny of the public power, in addition to accountability through Parliament and Elections.”

In the end, Justice Mallon declined to order a review. In part, this was because our new Government has announced it will pursue a 2050 carbon neutral New Zealand.

This decision sets legal precedents for challenging governments on many other environmental issues. Many people recognised the importance of this and contributed to the Givealittle page for Sarah’s costs. However, although the lawyers generously donated their time, there is still a shortfall of $2,355 for court costs, travel, paperwork and other out of pocket expenses.

If you can help us clear this debt and take the burden off Sarah’s shoulders, please contribute on the Givealittle site

Preparing our houses for the summer break

Uma Campbell writes about how we can be stewards for our environment and still enjoy the holiday season.  She offers us some tips…

Preparing the House for the Holidays

While much of the world might associate the Christmas season with snow and cold weather, Kiwis celebrating the holidays in New Zealand look forward to sun and balmy weather. But while you enjoy the festivities and a meal of perhaps some sliced ham, venison, roast vegetables, and white bait fritters with family and friends, you need to remain a good steward of environment.


Reduce Packaging


If you want to enjoy the festivities of the holidays while reducing the amount of waste you generate, one way to go about this is to use reusable bags as opposed to gift wrapping paper that will ultimately be discarded and clog up landfills. Avoid single-use bags — which have been the subject of much controversy in New Zealand — in favor of the reusable variety. In fact, a poll earlier this year demonstrated that 83% of poll respondents supported doing away with plastic bags, and a Waste Management Institute New Zealand study showed that around two-thirds of people would be in agreement with a plastic bags levy as long as the funds raised were sent to charities. Statistics also show that the number of plastic bags used in New Zealand is 1.6 billion a year, which works out to 348 per person annually. When you consider that a plastic bag is used, on average, for 12 minutes and that each bag requires 1,000 years to break down, you can come to see the importance of using reusable bags more and plastic bags less.

Monitor Use of Appliances

 If you will have a full house during the holidays, you might see a bit of a boost to your energy consumption due to the increased use of appliances. But even in this appliances1area, you can potentially conserve energy if you observe a few simple best practices. For instance, you should be mindful of appliances that you leave on stand-buy. Leaving appliances on standby can actually tack in excess of $100 to your energy utility bills annually. So, if you have televisions, computers, video game consoles, stereos and other such things, plug these things into multi-plug boards in order to be able to turn off everything at the same time as required. If you have installed a heated towel rail, be selective about when you actually use it. If it’s on around the clock, you could end up paying out $170 annually because of the energy consumption. Another thing to specifically pay close attention to is the second fridge scenario. Some people have more than one fridge, and this can be useful if you have lots of family and guests over for the holidays, but it could cost your $200 annually to operate it if the second fridge is non-energy efficient. It might make sense to get rid of the second fridge or perhaps to replace it with a more energy efficient one.

Water Use

Having more people over at your home during the holidays will likely result in the use of more water, and this increased use can have a dramatic impact on your utility bill. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to conserve on water during the holidays. If you reduce shower time, for instance, you can definitely realize cost savings. Consider that a quarter-hour shower costs approximately $1, and a five minute shower costs approximately $0.33. With these water-use estimates, you can get a feel for how much you can potentially save if people shave off time from their regular shower routine. When it comes to washing clothes, you can also use cold water washes rather than hot water washes. Using hot water can take up as much as 10 times more electricity than washing the same load of clothes with cold water. Also remember to wash full loads rather than partially full loads to maximize your energy use.

When the holidays come around in New Zealand this year, you can definitely enjoy the festivities while also playing your part as a conscientious steward of the environment. So, prepare your house for the holidays by reducing packaging, monitoring your use of appliances, and conserving your water use. And be sure to enjoy the festivities!