SYDNEY - Russia has again thwarted attempts to create the world's largest ocean sanctuary in Antarctica, the final country opposing the protection of a vast swathe of rich waters from fishing, after a revised international plan won support from China.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) ends a 10-day meeting in Hobart, Australia on Friday without the consensus needed for a deal to conserve and manage the marine ecosystems in the Southern Ocean.
While Russia blocked conservation proposals for a fifth consecutive time, delegates welcomed China's support for the revised Marine Protection Area (MPA) in the icy but fertile Ross Sea put forward by the United States and New Zealand.
"China's support for a revised MPA is a major step forward in reaching the consensus required to put workable protections in place for the Ross Sea," New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said in a statement.
US delegation leader Evan Bloom told Reuters the ongoing opposition by Russia, which had argued that such a large area closed off to fishing was unnecessary, was frustrating.
"There's also a bit of optimism because now there's just one country left and we're closer than we have ever been before."
The latest proposal includes a new research zone for krill and allows fishing for the tiny creatures that form the basis of the Antarctic food chain in other areas of the expanded 1.5 million square kilometre protected zone.
China has expressed a desire to increase its fishing for krill, used in fish food and human nutritional supplements, throughout the Southern Ocean. Delegates said there were no immediate plans for krill fishing in the Ross Sea and little risk to the vast resource, which is protected by existing quotas and regulations.
The objective of the CCAMLR, which was established by international treaty in 1982, is the conservation of Antarctic marine life "whilst providing for rational use" that takes global food security into account.
The European Union and 24 nations are members of the consensus-based organisation and a further 11 countries have signed its convention.
Antarctica is home to more than 10,000 species including most of the world's penguins, whales, seabirds, colossal squid and Antarctic tooth fish.
"The Ross Sea is one of the last intact, fully functioning marine ecosystems on earth. It's really important to preserve it for its own intrinsic value, " Andrea Kavanagh, a delegate and director of the pro-conservation Pew Charitable Trusts said.
"It's also a really important place for scientists to look at how climate change is affecting healthy ecosystems as opposed to unhealthy ecosystems."
The Southern Ocean represents about 10 percent of the Earth's surface.