Reserve to cover 1.8m km will protect penguins, leopard seals, orca and blue whales
The UK government has thrown its weight behind the creation of the worlds biggest environmental sanctuary, covering a huge swathe of the Antarctic ocean.
The massive 1.8m sq km reserve five times the size of Germany would ban all fishing in a vast area of the Weddell Sea and parts of the Antarctic peninsula, safeguarding species including penguins, killer whales, leopard seals and blue whales.
Experts say it would also play a key role in tackling climate change, pointing out that the seas around the Antarctic if protected and viable soak up huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
A decision is due to be taken by the nations that make up the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources the group set up to protect the seas around the Antarctic in Hobart, Tasmania at the end of this month.
Last month the UK government backed a proposal that would see 30% of the worlds oceans protected by 2030 a move heralded as a breakthrough moment by environmentalists.
Now the environment secretary, Michael Gove, has told the Guardian he is fully behind the creation of the new Antarctic sanctuary, which would be a key moment in the effort to protecting the worlds oceans.
The protection of our oceans requires global action, said Gove. The Hobart meeting presents a brilliant opportunity for the international community to unite together to safeguard our marine habitats for future generations.
The strength of government support was underlined by Sir Alan Duncan, the foreign office minister responsible for polar regions, who said the UK was using all its influence to ensure the proposal went through.
The UK has been unwavering in our commitment to establish marine protected areas in Antarctica and we are using our voice internationally to make the case for practical action, he said.
The idea for the new sanctuary was originally put forward by Germany and is now supported by the EU.
A Greenpeace campaign to support the proposals has now been backed by more than two million people around the world. It received a boost earlier this year when the major krill fishing companies that operate in the region came out in support following consumer pressure.
The sanctuary campaign has also been backed by a host of celebrities. On Tuesday Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke released a track in support of the campaign, part of a series of musical performances and songs written worldwide calling for the protection of Antarctic waters.
Will McCallum head of oceans at Greenpeace said that within the space of a year the movement to protect the Antarctic has snowballed and people around the world now wanted to see real action to defend our oceans.
He added: The governments responsible for these waters have a historic opportunity over the next two weeks to safeguard this precious region and make a huge contribution to the health of our global oceans.
It is still unclear which way some key nations with fishing interests in the region including Russia, Norway and China will vote and campaigners are concerned that the proposal might get watered down.
McCallum said time was running out and warned that governments or organisations that stood in the way of safeguarding the oceans would be judged harshly by future generations.
There is a scientific imperative to create sanctuaries across at least 30% of our oceans by 2030, to protect wildlife and help to tackle climate change. If the Antarctic ocean commission fails to live up to its name and kicks ambitious sanctuary proposals to touch, it risks becoming little more than a fisheries management organisation and failing in its mandate to conserve the Antarctic Ocean for generations to come.
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