The Ross Sea region of Antarctica is one of the most untouched environments in the world. The region is teeming with unique marine life and unbroken food chains that are vital to the future of the Antarctic ecosystem.

Iconic species in the region such as Weddell seals, killer whales and emperor penguins call the pristine landscape home, while the chilly waters also house the prized Antarctic toothfish.

Its significance as an area of great environmental importance was recognised in December 2017 with the creation, by international agreement, of a massive marine protected area (MPA) safeguarding some 1.55 million square kilometres of water. Of that, 1.12 million square kilometres is fully protected. 

The MPA was championed by New Zealand and the United States and approved by the 25-member states of the Commission for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)     — a significant achievement marking a major contribution to global marine protection. It balances environmental protection, sustainable fishing and science interests. Within its limits are:

  • A ‘no take’ General Protection Zone (a fully protected area where no commercial fishing is permitted).
  • A Special Research Zone which allows for limited research fishing for krill and toothfish.
  • A Krill Research Zone which allows for controlled research fishing for krill.

The life of the MPA has been set at 35 years for the General Protection Zone. There will need to be international agreement to continue the MPA beyond this time.

Scientific research is the foundation of the MPA and there are specific objectives that will be measured over time to ensure it offers effective protection.

NIWA scientists are significant players in international scientific collaboration monitoring the effectiveness of the MPA and focusing on fisheries, in particular the toothfish fishery and its impacts, and monitoring of ecosystems. Some of their key programmes are:

Antarctic fisheries research

Ross Sea Research and Monitoring Programme (RAMP)