A good news story for World Ocean Day: The Ross Sea region MPA

A major breakthrough in conservation protects one of the last marine wildernesses: the Ross Sea region of Antarctica, home to killer whales, seals, sperm whales and more. Shanelle Dyer tells us about this remarkable initiative.


The Southern Ocean south of the Antarctic Polar Front is managed by an international agreement analogous to the Antarctic Treaty, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).  This area accounts for 10% of the world’s oceans and includes some of the most pristine marine habitats on Earth. CCAMLR allows fishing but aims to balance conservation with rational use.

In 1996, New Zealand started an exploratory fishery for Antarctic toothfish in the Ross Sea region, directly south of New Zealand. Toothfish are much bigger than other Antarctic fish: they can grow to over 2 m in length, weigh more than 100 kg, and are very fat. Toothfish represent a uniquely concentrated source of energy for Weddell seals, killer whales, and sperm whales.

Scientists, however, raised concerns that removing too much toothfish from the Ross Sea region could impact toothfish predators and the ecosystem as a whole. In response, New Zealand and the USA submitted a joint proposal to CCAMLR to create the Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area. This MPA was established in December 2017 after years of negotiation and scientific debate. As the largest High-Seas MPA in the world, it represents a major breakthrough for marine conservation.

There’s much more work left to do though: to ensure the continued protection of the Ross Sea region, CCAMLR requires ongoing research to show that the MPA is fulfilling its objectives. I am proud to say that my research is making a small (but hopefully useful) contribution to ensuring that the Ross Sea remains “protected, valued, and understood”.

Shanelle Dyer is an MSc Geography student at UC, using remote sensing and GIS for conservation. Her thesis focuses on using machine learning to count Weddell seals in images and analyse their haul-out patterns. With her primary supervisor Dr Regina Eisert, she collaborates with Antarctica NZ to monitor Weddell seals at Scott Base as part of an environmental impact assessment. Follow Shanelle on Instagram.

Shanelle and Regina would like to thank Antarctica NZ for supporting their work.

The Top Predator Alliance NZ (TPA) was founded in 2013 by Dr Regina Eisert. This research programme was created to do the science needed for the Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area (the world’s largest MPA).
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