The Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area (MPA) covers 1.55 million km2 of ocean bordering Antarctica from ice edge to deep ocean.
It was established on 1 December 2017 after years of international collaborative effort and negotiation. Jointly led by New Zealand and the United States, the MPA required agreement of all 25 members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The agreement seeks to balance marine protection, sustainable fishing and science interests.
Ross Sea infographic
Ross sea MPA diagram
The MPA protects rare and vulnerable benthic (deep ocean) species, representative habitats and areas of importance for underpinning and maintaining ecosystem integrity.
The MPA also supports scientific research. A research and monitoring plan has been developed to guide research relating to the MPA.
Scientific research will be based around the MPA objectives, including:
- threat mitigation: the MPA should protect the region’s ecosystems from threats
- representativeness: the MPA should protect an adequate proportion of the marine environments in the region
- scientific reference: the MPA encompasses areas with little or no fishing so we can understand how intact marine ecosystems work.
A range of research and monitoring is underway to help learn more about this MPA. More information:
The MPA has three zones, each with different restrictions.
General protection zone
Covers 1.12 million km2 or 72% of the MPA and no commercial fishing is allowed.
Special research zone
Allows limited fishing for krill and toothfish.
Krill research zone
Allows controlled research fishing for krill, in accordance with the objectives of the MPA.
The Ross Sea is one of the least disturbed marine environments in the world.
Unlike most of the world’s oceans, the Ross Sea has remained relatively free from human impacts. Because it is so productive, it is home to an incredible array of animals including:
- at least 10 marine mammals such as killer whales and leopard seals
- seabirds including Adelie penguin, emperor penguin and Antarctic petrel
- a vast array of fish and invertebrate species.
The Ross Sea also provides foraging areas for a wide range of New Zealand seabirds.
This region is particularly important to New Zealand due to the connectivity of species between New Zealand and the Ross Sea, the proximity of the Ross Sea to New Zealand and the influence of the Southern Ocean on our climate.
Threats to the Ross Sea ecosystems
While the Ross Sea is remote and relatively inaccessible, it is subject to threats from climate change, fishing and other human activities in the area.
There is an active commercial toothfish fishery in the Ross Sea region, managed by CCAMLR. Krill may also be of future commercial interest in this area. Fishing not only directly impacts target species, but can impact the species that they eat, the species that eat them, non-target species such as seabirds and the broader marine environment.
Antarctica is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Climate change and ocean acidification have been shown to be occurring in the Southern Ocean and have the potential to affect a broad range of species and habitats, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
Duration of protection and reviews
The general protection and krill research zones are in place for 35 years and the special research zone is in place for 30 years, after which the MPA will require another consensus decision from CCAMLR to continue.
Scientific progress will be reviewed every 5 years and a review of the whether the objectives are being met, are relevant, or should be altered, will take place every 10 years.
DOC’s role in Antarctica
The functions of DOC, established under Section 6 of the Conservation Act, include:
- promoting the benefits of international cooperation on matters relating to conservation
- the conservation of the natural and historic resources of the Ross Dependency and Antarctica generally.
DOC is responsible for providing conservation and science advice as part of New Zealand’s delegation to CCAMLR and, along with Ministry of Primary Industries, was involved in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade-led negotiations leading to the decision to implement the MPA.
While DOC has not conducted significant research in Antarctica, many of its conservation management and science activities are relevant to Antarctica given the ecological connections between New Zealand and Antarctica. This is particularly true for a number of marine mammals and sea birds. For example, a number of seabirds breed in New Zealand but forage in Antarctic waters.
More information on the Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area: