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Environment

Conservationists slam Antarctic Ocean sanctuary failure

Two weeks of talks in Australia have failed to produce a deal to create a huge marine sanctuary in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservation groups accused officials of favoring fishing rights over marine preservation.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance said on Friday that it was hugely disappointed by the lack of progress in talks on a major marine sanctuary.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), consisting of 24 countries plus the European Union, convened for two weeks in Hobart, Australia to seek an agreement on a massive marine reserve in the Ross Sea. The meeting ended without pasing a resolution.

"CCAMLR members failed to establish any large-scale Antarctic marine protection at this meeting because a number of countries actively blocked conservation efforts," said Steve Campbell of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, a group made up of 30 international organizations including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund.

The drive for a conservation zone had drawn high-profile support, Hollywood star Leonardo di Caprio had written in an email that "whales and penguins can't speak for themselves, so it's up to us to defend them," and he called for "a massive wave of public pressure" on the issue and launching a petition that has gathered over a million signatures.

The Antarctic Ocean is home to large numbers of penguins, seals and whales that do not thrive anywhere else on earth. Increased fishing, especially for the key food source krill, is beginning to threaten their habitat.

Greenpeace officials criticized the CCAMLR after the talks, saying that this year the group "behaved like a fisheries organization instead of an organization dedicated to conservation of Antarctic waters."

"If there is a glimmer of hope to be pulled from the ruins, it is in the redoubling of the commitment to create marine protected areas expressed by most CCAMLR members," Farah Obaidullah from Greenpeace said. "The question now is whether Russia, China and Ukraine will come to the next meeting prepared to meet their conservation commitments."

An intercessional follow-up meeting aiming to break the impasse is to be held in Germany in July 2013.

msh/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters)