CLOSE
Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

World’s Largest Marine Reserve Declared in Antarctica

Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

In a move hailed by conservationists, an international governing body has created the world’s largest marine protected area in the Ross Sea. The designation will protect 598,000 square miles of water off the Antarctic coast, a region teeming with wildlife from krill to killer whales.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was created by international convention in 1982 and includes delegates from 24 countries, including the United States, and the European Union. The commission was founded in response to growing commercial fishing interest in Antarctic krill—an essential link in the marine food chain.

Both krill and plankton are abundant in the near-pristine Ross Sea. Their presence provides food for the tiniest sea creatures, which in turn are eaten by little animals, onward and upward all the way to pods of minke and killer whales.

“The Ross Sea is probably the largest ocean wilderness left on our planet,” marine biologist Enric Sala told National Geographic. “It is the Serengeti of Antarctica, a wild place full of wildlife such as emperor penguins, leopard seals, minke whales, and killer whales. It's one of these rare places where humans are only visitors and large animals rule.”

The sea’s isolation kept it safe for a long time. But as commercial interests enlarge and fuel prices drop, even these frigid waters will need more official forms of protection.

The new ruling prohibits fishing in 72 percent of the reserve, while other areas will be open to limited collections for scientific purposes. "A number of details regarding the MPA are yet to be finalized but the establishment of the protected zone is in no doubt and we are incredibly proud to have reached this point,” Andrew Wright, CCAMLR executive secretary, said in a statement.

Protections will go into effect in December 2017 and hold for 35 years. It’s a very welcome development, say conservationists, but it’s also a temporary fix.

Rod Downie is the polar program manager for the World Wildlife Fund. “This is a milestone for the conservation of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean,” he told New Scientist. “We want a permanent and enduring agreement for future generations that will safeguard the whales, penguins, seals and thousands of other amazing species that live there.”
 
Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Animals
The World's Last Male Northern White Rhino Has Died, But Could He Still Help Save the Species?
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

Following age-related complications, Sudan the northern white rhinoceros was euthanized by a team of vets in Kenya at 45 years old, CNN reports. He was one of only three northern white rhinos left on earth and the last male of his subspecies. For years, Sudan had represented the final hope for the survival of his kind, but now scientists have a back-up plan: Using Sudan's sperm, they may be able to continue his genetic line even after his death.

Northern white rhino numbers dwindled from 2000 in 1960 to only three in recent years. Those last survivors, Sudan, his daughter Najin, and granddaughter Fatu, lived together at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Each animal had physical issues making it difficult for them to breed, and now with Sudan gone, a new generation of northern white rhinos looks even less likely.

But there is one way the story of these animals doesn't end in extinction. Before Sudan died, researchers were able to save some of his genetic material, which means it's still possible for him to father offspring. Scientists may either use the sperm to artificially inseminate one of the surviving females (even though they're related) or, due to their age and ailments, fertilize one of their eggs and implant the embryo into a female of a similar subspecies, like the southern white rhino, using in vitro fertilization.

"We must take advantage of the unique situation in which cellular technologies are utilized for conservation of critically endangered species," Jan Stejskal, an official at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic where Sudan lived until 2009, told AFP. "It may sound unbelievable, but thanks to the newly developed techniques even Sudan could still have an offspring."

Poaching has been a major contributor to the northern white rhino's decline over the past century. Rhinos are often hunted for their horns, which are believed to have medicinal properties in some Asian cultures. (Other people just view the horn as a sign of wealth and status.) Procreating is the biggest issue threatening the northern white rhinoceros at the moment. If such poaching continues, other rhino species in the wild could end up in the same situation.

[h/t CNN]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Tre' Packard
arrow
Art
Artists Transform the Polar Bear Capital of the World Into Massive Mural Gallery
Tre' Packard
Tre' Packard

The freezing village of Churchill, Manitoba has just gotten a whole lot brighter. Sixteen “artivists” recently descended on the self-titled Polar Bear Capital of the World, leaving behind beautiful murals with a meaningful message.

The Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans initiative is an international art project by the nonprofit PangeaSeed Foundation, which melds culture and environmental activism to increase public interest in saving our oceans. From 2014 to 2017, the program sponsored more than 300 murals in 12 countries by 200-plus artists from around the world.

Churchill’s Sea Walls were created in collaboration with the Polar Bear Fund (PBF), a nonprofit that supports innovative projects to raise awareness about the polar bears’ plight.

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Spending more than 80 percent of their time in the water, polar bears are technically sea creatures, PBF founder Kal Barteski said in a statement.

“Polar bears are directly affected by the unprecedented melting of sea ice and subsequent habitat destruction at an alarming rate, resulting in a big challenge for the species to survive.”

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Artist painting a polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Tre’ Packard is the founder and executive director of PangeaSeed. “Public art and activism can educate and inspire the global community to help save our seas,” he said.

“Regardless of your location – large metropolitan city or small seaside village like Churchill – the ocean supplies us with every second breath we take and life on Earth cannot exist without healthy oceans.”

All images courtesy of Tre’ Packard. Artists, top to bottom: Kal Barteski, Arlin, Dulk, Jason Botkin, and Charles Johnston.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios