U.S. hopeful it can win Russia's agreement on Antarctic Ocean deal

PALO ALTO, Calif. (Reuters) - After repeated failed attempts to establish an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary, the United States is hopeful it can sway Russia to agree to a plan that would protect a vast swath of what marine scientists call the most pristine body of water left on Earth.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is meeting in Hobart, Australia, in a bid to find consensus for a deal to conserve and manage the marine ecosystems in the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean. The meeting began on Monday and ends on Oct. 28.

“We hope to bring Russia on board,” Evan Bloom, the head of the U.S. delegation, said in an interview on Friday. “We are talking with them in a positive way. Russia is the final piece in this puzzle.”

So far, Russia has blocked conservation proposals five times, while all other delegates to the commission, made up of 24 nations and the European Union, supported revised proposals to create Marine Protection Areas (MPAs) in waters surrounding Antarctica.

CCAMLR, which was established by international treaty in 1982, is negotiating three large MPAs this year: one in the Ross Sea, one in the East Antarctic and one in the Weddell Sea.

The MPAs, if established, would limit commercial fishing and protect marine ecosystems.

Collectively, the proposed MPAs would amount to more than 12 percent of the Southern Ocean, which is home to more than 10,000 species including most of the world’s penguins, whales, seabirds, colossal squid and Antarctic tooth fish.

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“Beyond resource interests, international geopolitics and tensions in other parts of the world are acting as a barrier to the MPA process,” Cassandra Brooks of Stanford University said in an interview. She is lead author of a study published earlier this month examining the role of politics in CCAMLR negotiations.

“There is a lot of tension in the South China Sea, a lot of tensions between the U.S. and Russia and the Middle East, and these tensions all add up,” added Robert Dunbar, who coauthored the paper with Brooks and is a professor of earth system science at Stanford.

But Bloom remains confident.

“Science can trump politics and we find that CCAMLR has the ability to make decisions that are focused on the ecosystem and scientific results,” he said. “We think that can happen here.”

Editing by Matthew Lewis