Russia and Ukraine likely to block huge Antarctic marine reserve

Adélie penguins in the Ross Sea, off Antarctica. Photograph: John Weller/AFP/Getty

Adélie penguins in the Ross Sea, off Antarctica. Photograph: John Weller/AFP/Getty


Conservation body meets to discuss protection of area 13 times the size of the UK, which would require unanimous agreement


Russia and Ukraine look likely to block a plan to create two huge marine reserves off the coast of Antarctica that combined would be bigger than the area of all the world’s protected oceans put together.

The 25-member Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meets in Bremerhaven, Germany, on Thursday to discuss the proposal to create the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Ross Sea, off the east coast of Antarctica. A decision, expected on Tuesday, would require unanimous agreement.

The proposal, backed by the US, New Zealand, Australia, France and the EU, would designate an area 13 times the size of the UK as one in which natural resource exploitation, including fishing, would be illegal. Advocates say the MPAs would provide environmental security to a region that remains relatively pristine.

Publicly, delegates and environmental NGOs have expressed optimism that the meeting will be a success. But a senior source at the meeting said the attitudes of Russia and Ukraine as they entered were looking negative.

The debate highlighted a rift between “pro-[fish]harvesting countries” and those who style themselves proponents of conservation, such as the US, Australia, New Zealand and the EU, according to Alan Hemmings, a specialist in Antarctic governance at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.He said: “You would put Russia and the Ukraine near the top of the states that are likely to be concerned about marine protected areas in the Antarctic on a large scale, along with China, Japan and, on and off, South Korea.”

“There’s a tug of war between those who want to establish conservation management and those who want to keep working with smaller-scale fisheries management,” said Steve Campbell, campaign director at the Antarctic Ocean Alliance. But he expressed “quiet optimism” that the proposals would be passed, if not at the meeting in Germany, then at the next annual meeting in Hobart, Australia later in the year.

The US and NGOs have been lobbying countries who expressed reservations at the last CCAMLR meeting. NGOs and delegates reported that China, South Korea and Japan looked likely to support the proposals.

Many countries have valuable fisheries in the region, particularly for patagonian toothfish and krill. Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Southern Ocean sanctuaries, said defining the boundaries of the reserves to balance ecology and economic interests would represent a challenge to negotiations.

Additionally, a sunset clause for the reserves, proposed by Norway and supported by Russia and Japan, would mean the protected status of East Antarctic and Ross Sea reserves would have to be renewed in 2064 and 2043 respectively. Campbell said reserves with time limits were highly unusual.

“Precedent tells you that if you set up a protected area, you set it up for an indefinite period of time. If you set up a national park in a country, you designate it in perpetuity.” He said the potential for fishing and other resources in the future was driving the push.

“It’s not just about what’s there now, it’s also about what could be a future economic interest or a future interest in the region,” said Campbell.

The extraordinary session in Bremerhaven was arranged after the last annual meeting of CCAMLR in November, 2011 failed to reach a consensus on the MPAs. At the time Russia, China and Ukraine expressed concerns at a lack of available science in favour of the reserves. The decision was taken to reconvene this summer with the agenda solely focused on the proposals.

Green groups expressed dismay at last year’s inaction. They were joined by delegates from the USA, UK, EU and Australia who feared that CCAMLR had lost its proactive attitude to conservation.

At the end of the 2011 meeting, the Ukraine delegation said well-grounded scientific arguments were lacking. They said MPAs were only one approach to managing an ecosystem and that “only fishing, at least at some level, can guarantee that research is conducted” to monitor fish stocks.

“Russia was of the view that previous scientific committee advice was related to only some aspects of MPAs and that all available information needed to be considered,” said the Russian delegation.

Russian and Ukraine declined to comment further on this week’s meeting.


Blackbird hitches a ride atop a red-tailed hawk

Remarkable image is one of a series captured by a photographer during a recent trip to a Northern California wildlife area

Originally posted by by

Brave Little Balckbird

Brave Little Balckbird

Landing On A Raptor Sonoma-Spring-62

Earlier this week we shared vivid photos of red-tailed hawks engaged in a dogfight with two ravens that were interested in the raptors’ nest and babies.

The image atop this post might be even more incredible—or at least unique. It shows a red-winged blackbird standing on the back of a red-tailed hawk, looking as if it’s catching a ride to another destination.

The series of images were captured recently by photographer Eric Dugan at Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area in Northern California. They first appeared in a San Francisco Chronicle story written by outdoors columnist Tom Stienstra.

Dugan described the event:

“I was exploring the wildlife refuge and heard the screech of a red-tailed hawk, loud and repeated. I scanned the sky but didn’t see anything at first. Then, in the distance, I saw a young red-tailed hawk sitting on a telephone pole and the red-winged blackbirds were jumping on and off its back and head, apparently to drive it away from a nesting area.


“I immediately stopped, changed to my long lens, and set up my camera in anticipation for the show. As I walked closer, I anticipated that the hawk would take flight and the blackbirds would pursue it, to drive it out of their territory. I raised the camera and the blackbird actually landed on the hawk multiple times.


“The small bird was so far more maneuverable in flight that all the hawk could do was tolerate it and fly away.”

Dugan stated via email that the photos “are 100 percent legit” and that his only edits were exposure- and shadow-related since lighting was harsh at certain points because of the bright sunshine.

“I went back to the same spot a few days later hoping lightning would strike twice,” Dugan said. “But the red-tailed hawks were hunting way off in the distance.”

His final remark: “Red-winged blackbirds are fearless.”

—Dugan’s photos can be viewed on his Flickr page

—Find Pete Thomas on Facebook and Twitter


This is Pretty Funny…

Stunning footage shows attacking bullfrog’s epic fail versus dragonfly

Photographer says he captured the extraordinary scene by accident

April 08, 2013 by

The New York Times recently published a story about dragonflies and how prolific the flying insects are as hunters. But what probably stood out for most readers was the jaw-dropping footage used to illustrate the piece–notably the super-slow-motion footage showing a spotted skimmer dragonfly evading a predatory leaping frog (watch as the frog believes it has scored an easy meal, only to fall into the water empty-handed).

We asked Dr. Andrew Mountcastle, the Harvard researcher who captured the footage, to share a few details about his photo session and he confessed that he chronicled the event by accident while at a city park in Seattle, filming for a project featuring insect flight.

“Eight spotted skimmers frequently hunt from perches on twigs and rocks near water, so I had focused my camera on one such perch to try to capture take-off and landing sequences,” Mountcastle explained. “As I was waiting for the dragonfly to take off, I briefly looked away, at which point I heard a splash in the water. When I looked back at the perch, the dragonfly was gone and the water underneath the perch was disturbed.

“But fortunately the camera had recorded the entire event. It wasn’t until I reviewed the video that I saw the frog had stolen the scene.”

New research, according to the New York Times, suggests that dragonflies “may well be the most brutally effective hunters in the animal kingdom.”

For example, they manage to snare prey items–flies and mosquitoes, etc.–in midair at an astonishing 95 percent success rate.

Furthermore, they’re surprisingly voracious. Stacey Combes, another Harvard researcher, once watched a dragonfly consume 30 flies in a row.

Their adeptness stems from their ability to calculate a trajectory to intercept their prey, and to adjust that trajectory as needed.

Clearly, judging by the footage, they’re masters of evasion as well.

–To view more of Mountcastle’s movie clips, visit his website