The annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has received proposals for huge marine conservation reserves.
Despite months of negotiations behind the scenes, it is expected a decision on the proposal to protect huge swathes of Antarctica will be made at the meeting.
There had been some concerns Australia’s less than perfect relationship with Russia could overshadow the tone of the meeting.
The commission’s Andrew Wright said external tensions had previously played out at meetings.
“No-one hangs up their coat and hat at the door and leaves it there, some of those issues come through,” he said.
But Dr Christopher Jones from the CCAMLR said expectations were high this time around.
“I think the hopes are very high across most of the commission that progress will be made,” he said.
But history is against the proposal with three previous attempts resulting in failure.
Australia, the European Union and France had almost halved the size of their proposed reserves for East Antarctica in an effort to appease Russia, China and Japan.
Tony Flemming from the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) said he was hopeful the revised proposal would be supported.
“It’ll depend on the atmosphere of the meeting this year, so I don’t know,” he said.
Conservationists urge ‘no further compromise’
Environmental groups from all over the world descended on Hobart, urging the commission to approve the reserves.
Bob Zuur from the World Wide Fund for Nature said there should be no further compromises.
“Our view is really that the compromise has already occurred and that those proposals have already come down to what is really a minimum level,” he said.
If the proposal was successful 1,200,000 square kilometres of the region would become a protected area preserving the habitat of whales, seals, penguins and krill.
Another proposal for a similar sized reserve in the Ross Sea proposed by New Zealand and the US had also been tabled at the meeting.
Mark Epstein from the Antarctic and Southern Ocean coalition said the two reserves would make the world’s largest Marine Protected Area.
“This is a place worth protecting, it’s the last great wilderness,” he said.
Fishing and exploration would still be allowed within the reserves, so long as conservation values were protected.
The Antarctic Ocean Alliance described the Ross Sea as “The Last Ocean” due to its status as one of the most pristine oceans remaining on Earth.
In a statement, the alliance said in the past three years they had hoped for action.
The Southern Ocean is home to more than 10,000 unique species including penguins, whales, seabirds, giant squid and the Antarctic toothfish.
CCAMLR was established 34 years ago in Canberra and has been convened every year in Hobart since 1982.
It is a consensus-based organisation and proposals are only successful if no member country blocks them.
The annual 10-day meeting began in Hobart today.
More than 200 marine scientists, policy makers and diplomats from 25 member countries have arrived to take part.
From Yahoo News