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Antarctic seas in the balance

Plans to protect swathes of ocean face tough test.

Rich in fish, minerals and scientific potential, the seas around Antarctica are among the planet’s most pristine waters — but fishing vessels are already moving in. Next week, negotiators at a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR, pronounced ‘cam-lar’) may try to contain the accelerating rush to access the region’s natural resources. At stake is one of the planet’s last great wildernesses — as well as the credibility of the international body set up to protect Antarctica’s marine life.

CCAMLR will consider four proposals to create vast marine protected areas (MPAs) that would tightly restrict fishing activities in the region. But protection will require unanimous agreement by CCAMLR’s members (24 countries and the European Union), and some, including Japan and China, have a record of scepticism about any kind of Antarctic MPA. “This is a particularly important meeting,” says Alex Rogers, a conservation biologist at the University of Oxford, UK. “If the proposals were blocked, it would be a very serious situation, and it would set back the whole process probably by a decade or more.”

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More MPAs in the Antarctic PLEASE!

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