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Australia's Plan for Antarctic Sanctuary Gains... Less Ground?

Oct 21, 2014 02:19 PM EDT

Australia's plan for creating a vast marine reserve off Antarctica has gained less ground, but the country said Monday it's still hopeful in the sanctuary's success.

A bid for the Marine Protected Area (MPA) was first put forward in 2011 by Australia, along with France and the European Union. But the Commission of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) knocked back the idea, which would encompass 760,000 square miles (1.9 million square kilometers) of the Last Continent.

So those down under revised the reserve to make it smaller. Its latest proposal is for a 620,000 square mile (1 million square kilometer) zone over four areas, a new plan that CCAMLR officials are currently talking over in Hobart.

"The reduction in the scale of the East Antarctic proposal reflects concerns from some nations that the area included was too large," head of Australia's delegation Tony Fleming said in a statement.

Fleming and others hope the proposal will protect Antarctica's biodiversity, ecosystem processes, as well as foraging areas for marine mammals and penguins and spawning areas for toothfish and krill.

While the sanctuary's revisions would allow for fishing and scientific research in the protected areas, these activities are expected to keep in line with the region's conservation values.

And as the world's last wilderness, Antarctica is "critical for scientific research," Bob Zuur, manager of the World Wildlife Fund's Antarctica program, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) at a press conference in Paris.

There's still many species left to be discovered, according to Zuur, so studying this vast icy expanse while also protecting the ecosystem is important.

Whether or not the proposed marine asylum will be a success remains to be seen, but Fleming is hopeful.

"We are looking forward to working with other nations to reach a good outcome on marine protected areas at this year's meeting," he said in the statement.

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