Tomorrow morning, in the Australian city of Hobart, a meeting that may decide the fate of the Ross Sea near Antarctica as an ecosystem and everything in it, begins. It will involve 25 nations from around the world, including many with Antarctic dependencies such as New Zealand, the United States and Russia. The aim of the meeting is to work out a legal instrument that will protect the Ross Sea and the marine ecosystem in it from unsustainable exploitation. As the last major ocean not yet subject to some form of exploitation, thanks to its relative isolation and unforgiving climate, the possibility that the delegations might not be able or willing to reach a consensus on how to look after it bodes ill.
New Zealand, for a change – normally one of the more responsible nations when it comes to issues pertaining to the Antarctic – does not seem all that interested in protecting the Ross Sea. An article printed by Fairfax media on 11 October 2012 suggests that New Zealand will veto the total protection of the Ross Sea. The relative indifference to the Ross Sea is concerning because as one of the few nations with an Antarctic backyard, the failure of this Government to protect it would have long term implications for the sustainability of New Zealand fisheries and our credibility with regards to the Antarctic. The Ministry of Conservation has seemed reluctant to join constructive solutions, such as a plan that the United States was promoting.
The Green Party, not surprisingly is critical of the Government, saying it is being obstructionist and is putting the interests of a small number of commercial fishermen ahead of the sustainability of an entire ecosystem. Concerns have been raised by others, including philanthropists such as Gareth Morgan and it is well known that when Royal New Zealand Navy frigates are on patrol in the New Zealand zone of Antarctica, known as the Ross Dependency they often chase illegally poaching trawlers out, which are suspected of having been catching Patagonian toothfish.
Other oceans have been systematically plundered of vast numbers of species of fish to feed insatiable markets, whose unsustainability has threatened the very existence of those species. Quite aside from the fact that species are caught at rates far faster than their populations can replenish, the nature of the technology being used to catch the fish, causes immense damage to the seabed. It churns up the habitat that the fish live in. The nets set are indiscriminate in what gets caught, and what gets put back because it exceeds quota, is the wrong type of fish or is too small, is usually so badly damaged – if not dead – that there is no ecological gain.
Fisheries all around the world have been plundered and continue to be plundered. According to a Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science entry for May 2012, in 1988 for the first time on record, the rate of catch around the world across all species declined, and despite demand continuing to increase, it has continued to fall. The introduction of super trawlers to some nations waters basically introduces a whole new class of destructive power in ecosystems already reeling. It is hard to see how permitting these and other ships to fish the Ross Sea is going to help the situation if one looks at their international record.
Have you as a reader said to someone that you want to leave something behind for your kids and their offspring to enjoy? Have you had the pleasure of going sea fishing and hauling something big in or seeing a mate haul something big in?
If you answered yes to either or both of these questions, how do you expect that to be something your offspring can do if we don’t protect places like the Ross Sea? It’s now or never.