24 countries and the European Union have agreed to set aside a 600,000-square-miles—roughly twice the size of Texas— of the waters of the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica as a marine protected area.
By comparison, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands was previously the largest marine protected area, at 1.508 million square kilometers (583,000 square miles).
The new marine protected area (MPA) will be designated a “no-take” zone, putting everything from minerals to marine life off limits to extraction and most human activity.
The Ross Sea, which is considered to be one of the most pristine ecosystems in the world, is home to about 50 percent of ecotype-C killer whales, 40 percent of Adelie penguins and 25 percent of emperor penguins.
“This decision represents an almost unprecedented level of international cooperation regarding a large marine ecosystem comprising important benthic and pelagic habitats,” said Andrew Wright, Executive Secretary of CCAMLR, in a press release. “It has been well worth the wait because there is now agreement among all Members that this is the right thing to do and they will all work towards the MPA’s successful implementation.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said creatioin of the Ross Sea MPA is “…further proof that the world is finally beginning to understand the urgency of the threats facing our planet.”
“The Ross Sea Region MPA will safeguard one of the last unspoiled ocean wilderness areas on the planet – home to unparalleled marine biodiversity and thriving communities of penguins, seals, whales, seabirds, and fish,” said Kerry.