Antarctica to hold the world’s largest marine reserve

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A lone foraging emperor penguin "toboggans" on its belly across the frozen Ross Sea, with the live volcano Mount Erebus in the background, off Ross Island, Antarctica, December 9, 2006.  Picture taken December 9, 2006. REUTERS/Deborah Zabarenko

A lone foraging emperor penguin “toboggans” on its belly across the frozen Ross Sea, with the live volcano Mount Erebus in the background, off Ross Island, Antarctica, December 9, 2006. Picture taken December 9, 2006. REUTERS/Deborah Zabarenko

After years of diplomatic talks, the European Union and 24 other nations agreed Friday to establish the world’s largest marine reserve in Antarctica.

The deal protects 600,000 square miles of ocean, which is more than twice the size of Texas, near the Ross Sea ice shelf, banning all fishing in nearly three-fourths of the reserve. Scientists will still be allowed to catch small invertebrates for research in other designated areas.

The waters, which one ocean advocate calls the “polar garden of Eden,” are home to orcas, the colossal squid and multiple penguin species.

The United States and New Zealand have pushed to create the reserve for years. The Associated Press reported the two nations submitted a proposal in 2012 that was rejected five time because of concerns from Ukraine, Russia and China.

To get Russia on board, the agreement granted some concessions on fishing within designated research zones, the New Zealand Herald reported.

“At a time when relations on so many fronts are difficult with the Russians, some co-operation and a constructive dialogue is very pleasing to us,” New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said.

Secretary of State John Kerry also lauded the agreement, saying the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area “will safeguard one of the last unspoiled ocean wilderness areas on the planet.”

The agreement takes effect December 2017 and will be reviewed in 35 years.The nations that made the deal are looking at further protections for the Weddell Sea and waters surrounding East Antarctica, the Associated Press reported.

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