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At a time of great global uncertainty, the agreement to protect Antarctica’s oceans is a glimmer of hope

One year from now on December 1st 2017, the Ross Sea, off the coast of Antarctica in the Southern Ocean, will be officially protected in the world’s first large-scale marine protected area in international waters. When the world seems increasingly divided and polarised, it is inspiring that major geopolitical players like the United States, Russia, China, the EU and twenty-one other countries joined together to agree by consensus to protect this special place.

Once again, Antarctica has proven to be the one place on Planet Earth that we can agree on. The Antarctic Treaty was negotiated during the height of the Cold War and is now considered to be one of the most successful examples of diplomacy of the modern era. Today, at a time when the world needs urgent action to protect the environmental resources we all depend, Antarctica is a glimmer of hope, lighting the path required for protection of the ocean and planet.

The decision, made last month at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources, CCAMLR, shows what we can achieve when countries unite.

NGO representatives from around the world celebrate the agreement to protect the Ross Sea. Photo: Bob Zuur, 2016.

NGO representatives from around the world celebrate the agreement to protect the Ross Sea. Photo: Bob Zuur, 2016.

What’s next for Antarctica’s Southern Ocean?

The protection of Antarctica’s Ross Sea is just the first step of the marathon campaign that lays ahead of us. While the Ross Sea marine protected is big, it is just one patch in the quilt of the Southern Ocean.

The Ross Sea is the first in what we hope will be the world’s largest network of marine protected areas. Next in line are proposals to protect East Antarctic waters, the Weddell Sea, and the waters off the Antarctic Peninsula. The United States and New Zealand now hand the baton over to the new proponent countries including the European Union, France, Australia, Germany, Argentina and Chile. It is now up to these nations to lead on negotiations with the 25 CCAMLR governments and secure a system of a marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean.

To do that, they will need the continued support of global citizens like you and me. Together with our partners around the world, we are in this race for the long haul, and we hope you’ll be in it with us.