Antarctic talks fail on apparent Russia objections

BREMERHAVEN, Germany (AP) — Facing apparent Russian objections, the countries that regulate Antarctic fishing failed Tuesday to agree on proposals to create giant marine sanctuaries in the continent’s oceans.

Talks in the German city of Bremerhaven ended with no result — the second time in less than a year that negotiations have stalled.

“The outcome is not what we expected or hoped for … We did not reach a consensus,” said Terje Lobach, the chair of the group deliberating the results.

Two plans were on the table: a proposal put forward by the U.S. and New Zealand to protect the Ross Sea, considered one of the world’s most pristine, and an Australian-European plan for a sanctuary covering several areas of the Southern Ocean in the eastern hemisphere.

Russia, however, questioned whether there is a legal basis for the 24-nation Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to create the reserves, according to activists present during the talks.

“After two years of preparation, including this meeting, which Russia requested to settle the scientific case for the Ross Sea and East Antarctic proposals, we leave with nothing,” the director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, Steve Campbell, said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed regret that the commission was unable to reach agreement on establishing marine protected areas, including in the Ross Sea. Despite the setback, he noted that the majority of commission members “were able to find common ground” and there will be another chance to work out a plan to protect Antarctica.

“I’ve seen firsthand how acidification, pollution, and sea level rise tear at the fabric of our economies, our communities, even our security,” Kerry said in a statement released late Tuesday. “But this isn’t just a personal priority. The Ross Sea is a natural laboratory. Its ecosystem is as diverse as it is productive, and we have a responsibility to protect it as environmental stewards — just as we do the rest of the ocean.”

Scientists have said the ocean sanctuaries there would be ideal places to monitor climate change away from the influence of man, while conservations say the thriving colonies of seals and penguins should be left alone. However, several countries fear that the sanctuaries would have too much impact on their annual fishing haul.

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