The Ross Sea in the Antarctic is the planet's last pristine ocean area, but it could soon become a victim of the race for natural resources at the poles (Nature 478, 174–177; 2011). The region's absolute protection against fishing is being reconsidered by the New Zealand government.
One reason is the demand for a luxury seafood item, the Antarctic toothfish Dissostichus mawsoni — a fishery worth NZ$18 million (US$14 million) a year. However, this fish grows slowly and may not spawn every year, so harvesting would be unsustainable.
The designation of the entire Ross Sea as a Marine Protected Area will be debated in November 2012. New Zealand's probable veto was leaked in an official document made public on 11 October (see go.nature.com/ngtelo). The document reveals that the United States, once supportive of Ross Sea protection, is likely to back the New Zealand veto. This has prompted speculation that the move might encourage New Zealand's support for future US ownership claims over Antarctic territories.
A short-sighted refusal by two wealthy nations to protect the Ross Sea's intact marine ecosystem would deprive scientists of invaluable data because its complex structure would be altered forever.
Polar scientists, backed by oceanographer Sylvia Earle, are opposing fishing activities that could remove key species from the ocean's delicately balanced marine food webs. But so far, science-based advocacy for protecting the entire Ross Sea has been glaringly ignored by politicians.
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Lescroël, A., Grémillet, D. Fishery threatens protected ocean. Nature 479, 299 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/479299a