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Massive Antarctic marine reserve proposed

16:32 Tue Feb 28 2012

An Antarctic lobby group, backed by major conservation groups and celebrities, is calling for a massive marine reserve in the Ross Sea as part of an even bigger reserve surrounding Antarctica.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) on Tuesday launched its first report calling for 3.6 million square kilometres of fully protected marine reserve.

It would include a substantial proportion of New Zealand's dependency area of the Ross Sea and extend out to 60 degrees south. It would be comparable to the area of Australia.

It would also be one of 19 areas in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica to form the world's largest nature reserve, protecting the nearly 10,000 unique species found in the freezing environment.

The ban on fishing and development would cover most of the area where Patagonian toothfish is now fished.

AOA boasts supporters such as actor and UN biodiversity ambassador Edward Norton, oceanographer Sylvia Earle, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and 16 environmental organisations, including Greenpeace, WWF and Forest & Bird.

Both New Zealand and the United States, members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), have already proposed reserves for the Ross Sea, but the AOA says the data suggests a much bigger area is needed.

"While there are two proposals on the table to protect some of it, our report shows that we need a much broader and ecosystems-focused approach if we are to ensure this environment remains healthy and stable," said AOA's Chuck Fox.

CCAMLR, established in 1982 to prevent the Antarctica being overexploited, has agreed to create a network of marine protected areas in some of the ocean around Antarctica.

However, CCAMLR is a closed body and the AOA says that without public attention during the process, only minimal protection will be achieved.

The next full CCAMLR meeting is in Hobart in late October.