Diplomats Try For Deal Protecting Marine Life Near Antarctica

Diplomats are trying once again to preserve a vast swath of the ocean around Antarctica. Delegates from 24 nations and the European Union are meeting in Australia now, where they will consider proposals to create a marine protected area that would curtail fishing in the Ross Sea. Previous efforts have failed, but advocates say a scaled-back proposal this time around may stand a better chance.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're reporting this morning on the future of a vast area of ocean. The relatively undisturbed waters are off the shore of Antarctica. Delegates meeting today in Australia are considering a proposal to create what would be the world's largest marine-protected area. Nations that fish in these waters have blocked earlier such efforts, as NPR's Richard Harris reports.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: The preserve would ban fishing in more than half-a-million square miles of the Ross Sea. Its home to rich marine life: seals, penguins and whales, including half of the world's orcas. But it's the region's fish that are causing all the trouble. Large commercial operations travel across the globe to harvest the Patagonian Tooth Fish, which is marketed in the United States as Chilean Sea Bass.

The United States and New Zealand have been trying to limit or eliminate fishing in this area, not only to preserve this species, but to safeguard a rich ecosystem that helps feed marine life far and wide. The group that regulates fishing off Antarctica held a special meeting in July to create this preserve, but that ended in failure, after Russia and Ukraine objected. So the U.S. and New Zealand have scaled back the size of the proposed preserve by 40 percent.

In the coming weeks, they will see if they can reach consensus among the 24 nations, plus the European Union, who together will make this decision. Conservation groups are pressing for a deal that would preserve these waters forever, but the length of a deal would also be subject to negotiation.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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