Russia has blocked the creation of the world’s largest ocean reserves off the coast of Antarctica, in what campaigners called a “bad faith stalling tactic”.
The Russian delegation to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), whose 25 members have been meeting in Germany, questioned the organisation’s legal mandate to create two huge Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) off the coastline of Antarctica. If adopted, the proposals would more than double the current area of protected ocean on the planet.
Delegates to the meeting said that, while a Russian delaying tactic had been expected, the legal argument was “completely wrong”.
Steve Campbell, campaign director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA), said there was both procedure and precedent for the proposals: “It’s a very odd objection, because CCAMLR clearly has the legal authority to establish MPAs”.
Campbell said that Russia had previously agreed to the adoption of a measure establishing the commission’s procedure for the designation of such reserves. “But not only does it have the procedure,” said Campbell. “CCAMLR has already designated a large-scale MPA in the South Orkney Islands in 2009.”
The commission requires unanimous agreement from all of its 25 member states to create reserves. The proposals, initially put forward by the US, New Zealand, France, Australia and the EU, would create non-fishing zones covering 3.2m sqkm of ocean in the Ross Sea and off the East Antarctic coastline. Many countries have Patagonian toothfish and krill fisheries in the region.
Pew Charitable Trust Southern Ocean sanctuaries director Andrea Kavanagh said Russia’s actions called into question the country’s commitment to Antarctic marine conservation.
“Russia now seems to have forgotten that the mandate of CCAMLR is actually the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources, not the over-exploitation of resources,” said Kavanagh.
The proposals will be considered again at the annual meeting of the commission in Hobart, Australia in November. But a senior delegate said the move had cast doubt over the commission’s ability to create marine reserves.
“There is a question as to whether it can successfully create MPAs in the short term. Until Russia have a change of heart, it’s not going to happen.”
Kavanagh said the legal objection had caught the meeting by surprise and that it amounted to “bad faith stalling tactics” on the part of the Russians. She speculated that it was Russia’s intention to keep fishing grounds open for the next Antarctic summer (December-February). Russia would “continue to fish as much as they can, while they can,” said Kavanagh.
The commission’s annual meeting in November 2012, failed to arrive at a consensus over the two MPAs, with concerns being raised by China, Russia and Ukraine, among others, over the scientific basis for the proposals. This led delegations, including Russia, to arrange this week’s extraordinary meeting in the German port city of Bremerhaven.
The scientific committee began meeting on Thursday, with discussions reportedly continuing until 5.30am on Sunday. A source at the meeting said that China, South Korea and Japan, all traditionally reticent over marine reserve proposals, had been notably more constructive during the course of the talks.
The Russian delegation was unavailable for comment.
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