MOSCOW, July 16 (Alexey Eremenko, RIA Novosti) – Russia and Ukraine have blocked a proposal for creating an expansive marine wildlife reserve in the Antarctic because they contest the authority of the organizing commission, a US foundation said Tuesday.
The proposal, initiated by the United States and New Zealand, envisioned a 1.6 million square kilometer (600,000 square mile) reserve in the Ross Sea, a deep Antarctic bay south of the Pacific Ocean.
Such a conservation area would equal about 70 percent of the amount of global ocean that is currently fully protected, The Pew Charitable Trusts foundation, which has backed the marine wildlife reserve effort, said in a press release.
However, at a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, of which Russia is a founding member, the country’s delegation said further clarification was needed to determine whether the body was legally able to establish marine protected areas in the Ross Sea.
While Russian officials did not comment Tuesday evening, a World Wildlife Fund representative told RIA Novosti that Russia opposed the plan because it would affect the nation’s fishing industry.
However, other countries that currently fish in the proposed conservation areas, such as New Zealand and Australia, have backed the protection effort.
But, “I wouldn’t call the situation hopeless,” said the WWF’s Polina Zhbanova, adding that Moscow was not opposed to the plan in principle, though it wanted to hammer out the details before making a commitment.
Russia, Zhbanova said, “made some compromise proposals that balanced the country’s interests and environmental needs, but other countries have to show willingness to compromise too.”
Meanwhile, Australia, France and the European Union have also proposed delineating several other marine protected areas totaling 1.9 million square kilometers (730,000 square miles) in the East Antarctic.
The organizing commission is next set to convene in October for an annual meeting in Australia, when a compromise solution is expected to be outlined, though not finalized, the WWF representative said.
The idea of a new marine reserve in the Southern Ocean has been backed by celebrities, including film director James Cameron, Virgin Group tycoon Richard Branson, and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. They asked for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support in an open letter last week, but got no reply from the Kremlin.