The Federal Government has welcomed today’s decision on establishing marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean as a significant advance in Antarctic protection.

After two weeks of negotiations in Hobart, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has finalised a conservation agreement which creates a road map for establishing a representative system of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean.

The historic agreement, finalised over the last hour, clears the way for specific marine protected area proposals to be considered by the Commission this time next year.

Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke, hailed the agreement as a major breakthrough.

“This is one of the most significant advances in the protection of oceans in Antarctica since the establishment of CCAMLR," Mr Burke said.

“It is the beginning of nations showing the same respect to waters around the Antarctic that was shown to Antarctica itself when Bob Hawke led the campaign to prevent mining 20 years ago.

“Creating this road map is only the beginning of a process to determine marine protected areas but just getting this far is a massive advance.

“Today’s decision says that the Southern Ocean is a foundation stone for marine life, not a resource to be treated like a quarry.

”CCAMLR has always been a leader in protecting the Southern Ocean, but agreeing on this road map reinforces CCAMLR leadership in marine conservation.

“Australia has led the development of this proposal and today’s decision demonstrates the collaborative spirit within CCAMLR."

In 2009 CCAMLR agreed to work towards a representative system of marine protected areas within the Convention Area — an area of the Southern Ocean which it governs — by 2012. That same year, the Commission declared its first marine protected area south of the South Orkney Islands near the Antarctic Peninsula.

The general measure adopted today will guide countries, including Australia, on the preparation of individual marine protected areas proposed for adoption by the Commission in 2012 and beyond.

These proposals have already been carefully considered by CCAMLR scientists over the past two years, and Australia, together with France, has already begun work towards establishing a representative system of marine protected areas in East Antarctica.