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The world’s largest marine protected area has been created in Antarctica

L’area protetta si trova nel Mare di Ross, nel Pacifico, e occuperà una superficie di 1,55 milioni di chilometri quadrati.

Antarctica is a remote, hostile place characterised by a harsh climate and immense, sparkling ice expanses. It is one of our planet’s last wilderness paradises, mostly uncontaminated by human impact.

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Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) in Antarctica © Auscape/UIG via Getty Images

The world’s largest marine protected area

This extraordinary unexplored and biodiverse ecosystem will remain pristine as a joined proposal of the United States and New Zealand has been approved to create a protected area of 1.55 million square kilometres in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. The decision has been made in occasion of a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and is aimed to protect the area’s biodiversity and allow fish stocks to recover.

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Its nutrient-rich waters are the most productive in the Antarctic, leading to huge plankton and krill blooms that support vast numbers of fish, seals, penguins, and whales © Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

The largest ocean wilderness left on our planet

The Ross Sea – the size of Alaska – is the world’s most isolated marine area and boasts an extraordinary biodiversity thanks to its nutrient-rich waters. The area is home to more than 40 native species including Adelia penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae), emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri), common minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), killer whales (Orcinus orca), and Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii). The area has always been threatened by the increasing demand for fish, so some 1.1 square kilometres will gain protection from commercial fishing under the new agreement. However, there will be special zones where fishing will be allowed for research purposes.

The protection has a deadline though

The agreement, reached after five years of negotiations between the US and New Zealand, will grant protection for 35 years, as of December 2017. Therefore, in 2052 the countries will have to decide whether extend the protection of the area or not.

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The Ross Sea is home to 38% of Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) © Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Unprecedented international cooperation

The decision to create a marine protected area has been made by the delegates of 24 countries of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the European Union. This will be the first protected area in international waters and “the decision represents an almost unprecedented level of international cooperation regarding a large marine ecosystem comprising important benthic and pelagic habitats,” said Andrew Wright, CCAMLR Executive Secretary.

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