Critical habitats missing from NZ Ross Sea marine reserve proposal

By Geoff Keey, New Zealand Coordinator, Antarctic Ocean Alliance

New Zealand’s revamped Ross Sea marine reserve proposal has failed to show conservation leadership in international negotiations over the future of the region.

We’ve mapped the New Zealand Government’s proposal against data showing the richness of life in much of the Ross Sea region (see map above). The map shows that core areas of the Ross Sea region have been excluded from the marine reserve to preserve fishing interests (pick areas). The proposal contains a map that shows how carefully the lines on the map have been drawn to avoid the main fishing grounds.

The New Zealand Government has taken great care to preserve fishing grounds; it’s disappointing that equal care wasn’t taken to protect the critical marine habitats of key Ross Sea wildlife. By focusing protection on those areas that aren’t fished and ignoring critical habitats inside fishing grounds, New Zealand is aiming to preserve the status quo while appearing to make a grand gesture for conservation.


New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully recently said “I would like to think that if we are going to move to putting a stronger priority on conservation issues that New Zealand would lead that charge”.

Minister McCully’s Cabinet colleagues appear to have stymied his ambition and we hope they reconsider opportunities to show leadership over the next few weeks. If New Zealand is serious about creating a legacy for future generations in the Ross Sea it would be working with the United States to protect the critical habitats of the world’s least impacted ocean.

Instead New Zealand appears to be campaigning to protect fishing. The one silver lining is that New Zealand is proposing to protect the Scott Seamounts – undersea mountains that we have identified as a priority for protection.

In less than 50 days, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) – the body that regulates fishing and protection of these waters – will meet in Hobart, Tasmania to debate proposals for Ross Sea protection.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance strongly encourages New Zealand and the US to continue to strive towards a joint proposal at CCAMLR in late October that provides real conservation leadership that all participating countries can support, while we have a window of opportunity to protect this incredible habitat. New Zealand has shown an intransigent approach to date and now needs to consider how it will avoid a train wreck at negotiations on Antarctic marine protection at the CCAMLR meeting later this year.