Vast Antarctic sanctuary plans fail

Vast Antarctic sanctuary plans fail

SYDNEY - Plans to create two vast ocean sanctuaries in Antarctica to protect the pristine wilderness failed Friday for a third time, with Russia and China blocking the bids, delegates at multi-nation talks said.

The proposals for two huge Marine Protected Areas were on the table at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meeting in Hobart, which brought together 24 countries and the European Union.

But the 10-day talks ended with the nations unable to agree to a US-New Zealand proposal for a protected zone in the Ross Sea and another by Australia, France and the European Union for a sanctuary off East Antarctica.

"The international community came together in Hobart to protect key parts of the Antarctic Ocean - one of the last pristine environments in the world - yet Russia chose to stand in the way," said Joshua Reichert, executive vice president of US-based Pew Charitable Trusts, which had a delegate inside the talks.

There was no immediate comment from the Russian side, while China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she was unaware of the specifics of the case.

Environmentalists said an ocean wilderness that is home to 16,000 known species, including whales, seals, albatrosses, penguins and unique species of fish, was at stake.

CCAMLR - a treaty tasked with overseeing conservation and sustainable exploitation of the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean - has not yet made any official comment.

The head of the Swedish delegation Bo Fernholm said the outcome was disappointing.

"There was sadness," he told AFP. "We were quite unhappy with the fact that it didn't go ahead, that they couldn't get it through now was a disappointment."

Another delegate, who did not want to be named, confirmed the details.

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