The “last ocean” will be saved after all. A much awaited agreement to save the Southern Ocean’s Ross Sea was finally achieved in October 2016. After five years of fierce negotiations, 24 countries and the European Union agreed to create the world’s largest marine park, protecting 1.5 million square km of the Ross Sea around Antarctica.
The Ross Sea is often called the “last ocean,” as it is the last intact open-ocean ecosystem. “The Ross Sea, so far, has experienced fewer anthropogenic impacts than any other region on Earth and thus provides an unparalleled opportunity for scientists to learn how healthy ecosystems function,” explained Claire Christian and David Ainley, writing in The Solutions Journal in 2011. With the new agreement, scientists will have a chance to study how healthy ecosystems function.
The area is home to more than 100,000 species, including 38 percent of the world’s Adélie penguins, 50 percent of Ross Sea killer whales, and 45 percent of South Pacific Weddell seals, according to Christian and Ainley. It also produces about three-quarters of the nutrients to feed the rest of the world’s oceans.
The agreement is historic for having created the first marine park in international waters. But it has its shortcomings, too. For one thing, it expires in 35 years. According to The Guardian, Russia and China opposed a longer or indefinite agreement. Both countries have fishing interests in the region. Meanwhile, World Wildlife Fund officials warned that the definition of a marine protected area requires it to be permanent. Based on this agreement, the Ross Sea doesn’t meet this standard—but it’s a step in the right direction.