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John Kerry Calls for Action for Ross Sea Antarctic Ocean Reserve

Mar 19, 2013 12:47 PM EDT
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Penguin in Ross Sea
The decades-long increase of summer sea ice in the Ross Sea has largely been an exception - one of just a few polar regions where summer sea ice has not been melting. But new research from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science suggests that this increase of sea ice over in the Ross Sea will be not last much longer. An Emperor penguin waddles along sea ice off the Antarctic coast off Ross Island December 9, 2006.
(Photo : Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced yesterday that he plans to take action in protecting the Ross Sea.

Nor is he alone: Kerry was joined by New Zealand's Ambassador to the United States Mike Moore as well as Bob Carr, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs. Together, the three nations are sponsoring a plan to reserve the Ross Sea as a marine protected area (MPA).

The Ross Sea is one of the remotest bodies of water in the world and home to an array of wildlife and acts as a vital source of phytoplankton. The Ross Sea phytoplankton bloom is so huge, in fact, it can be seen from space. In all, over 500 scientists have signed a petition to protect what is considered the last untouched marine ecosystem.

Scientists are not the only ones with their eye on the Ross Sea, however. The Antarctic toothfish, sold under the name "Chilean sea bass," is the basis of a lucrative fishing business in the remote region.

The debate between scientists and fishermen has been perhaps heard most in New Zealand where fishermen were up in arms, fearing they would lose the valuable resource. However, at Monday's meeting Moore assured those in attendance that a compromise had been reached.

"The joint proposal for the marine protected area would make it the largest in the world, roughly three and a half times the size of Texas and nine times the size of New Zealand," Moore said.

Of that, the MPA will allow for a managed fishery and a no-take zone that will amount to two-thirds of the total area, or six times the size of New Zealand.

In defense of the region Kerry cited recent scientific discoveries that have come from ocean life, including new forms of treating hypoxic babies based off of hypoxia (lack of oxygen in babies) in water bodies.

Ultimately, Kerry left things on a personal note, citing his childhood on Cape Cod where he often found mussels among the rocks. Today, such finds are rare, he said.

"We call this beautiful planet Earth," Kerry said. "But it could well have been called Ocean."

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