Russia and China block Antarctic sanctuaries at Hobart meeting

Moscow is thought to have been concerned about proposed fishing limits

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 November, 2013, 3:50am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 November, 2013, 3:50am


Plans to create two vast ocean sanctuaries in Antarctica to protect the pristine wilderness failed yesterday for a third time, with Russia and China blocking the bids, delegates at multi-nation talks said.

The proposals for two huge marine protected areas were on the table at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources meeting in Hobart, Australia, which brought together 24 countries and the European Union.

But the 10-day talks ended in disappointment with the nations unable to agree to a US-New Zealand proposal for a protected zone in the Ross Sea and another by Australia, France and the European Union for a sanctuary off East Antarctica.

"The international community came together in Hobart to protect key parts of the Antarctic Ocean - one of the last pristine environments in the world - yet Russia chose to stand in the way," said Joshua Reichert, executive vice-president of US-based Pew Charitable Trusts, which had a delegate inside the talks.

Environmentalists said an ocean wilderness that is home to 16,000 known species, including whales, seals, albatrosses, penguins and unique species of fish, was at stake.

The commission, which oversees conservation and sustainable exploitation of the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean, has not yet made any official comment, but the head of the Swedish delegation, Bo Fernholm, said the outcome was disappointing.

"There was sadness," he said. "We were quite unhappy with the fact that it didn't go ahead, that they couldn't get it through now was a disappointment."

The sanctuaries required the support of all 25 members of the commission to be passed, and despite the scale of the New Zealand-US proposal being reduced, Russia was not won over by either proposal.

Another participant said that China also opposed the East Antarctica plan, but not the Ross Sea one.

"The talks have failed. Russia and China wanted more details, more time. It's very disappointing," said the delegate.

This was the third attempt since last year to protect large areas in the Southern Ocean. Fernholm said that, while "substantial discussions" took place, Russia had reservations, believed to be linked to fishing limits.

"I think there are some major problems remaining on some of the major things like how long does a marine protected area need to stay in force, and there were also objections about the size of these marine protected areas," he added.