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No accord yet on Antarctic protected zone

Nov. 9, 2012 at 5:00 PM   |   Comments

PUNTA ARENAS, Chile, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Talks toward an international agreement on establishing protected marine zones in Antarctica are inconclusive and may not make any headway until next July.

Last month's round of negotiations in Hobart, Australia, snagged on competing positions and proposals for protecting marine resources in an area contested by 25 nations.

Chile is one of the proactive claimants to Antarctica's untapped marine and mineral resources.

An international Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources met in Hobart for two weeks but finally agreed to defer the talks to July 2013.

CCAMLR represents 25 full members and another 10 countries, including China and Russia, which have signed up to the commission's 1982 convention on protecting the Antarctic environment. The European Union is also a member.

The talks center on establishing marine reserves in at least two critical areas of the southern ocean.

Aggressive exploitation of the region's marine resources poses a major threat, environmentalist campaigners say. They want more of the Antarctic to be protected against exploitation.

Negotiators from New Zealand and the United States presented competing proposals for creating a protected zone in the Ross Sea, while the Greens Movement in Australia said more needs to be done to recognize Tasmania as a "gateway" to the Antarctic region's future.

The Tasmanian Greens said the CCAMLR talks were hugely significant for Tasmania's future as the world's Antarctic gateway. Chile and South American nations see Latin America as an alternative route to the Antarctic for scientific research, development and tourism.

Australian Greens Environment spokeswoman Cassy O'Connor, a lawmaker, said that the failure of the talks would be a setback to the campaign to protect the Antarctic wilderness and a missed economic opportunity for Tasmania.

"Our role as the world's Antarctic gateway depends on whether all nations can agree on the need to protect this fragile and pristine wilderness," O'Connor said.

"This last, untouched area is now threatened by the same commercial pressures that have inflicted enormous harm to the ecological balance of nearly every ocean on the planet," she added.

"The Southern Ocean circling Antarctica is a pristine environment that is rich with life, and there is already evidence that the global fishing fleet is eyeing it off as their next big target," O'Connor said.

Environmental groups have called for public participation via online petitions. The Antarctic Ocean Alliance said that 1.2 million people had supported calls for large-scale protection areas.

Hollywood star Leonardo Di Caprio in an email said that as whales and penguins can't speak for themselves there was need for a "massive wave of public pressure" to drive forward the plans for restrictions on the use of the resources.

AOA coordinator Steve Campbell said he was very disappointed with the results.

"There are competing interests, in terms of commercial interests and in terms of the economic control of these areas we floundered essentially at the end of the talks," he said in a BBC interview.

He said participating nations Russia, Ukraine and China "couldn't really make it work -- and we're hoping that at the next meeting they'll come with a stronger commitment to the conservation objectives of the commission."

A special session of the commission will meet in Germany in July to try and hammer out an agreement.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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