International Cooperation in Antarctica

In spite of the ugly politics in the US and the rest of the world, there is upbeat news regarding Antarctica. For the past year a number of nations have tried to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Antarctica. The US, EU, China and twenty-one other countries were in agreement. Russia was the only holdout, but they finally agreed to join the other nations to create the worlds largest Marine Protected Area— 600,000 square miles—in the Ross Sea of Antarctica. Nothing can be taken from this area including marine life and minerals, except for scientific purposes, for the next thirty-five years. This means among other things that “Chilean Sea Bass”, the brand name for Patagonian Toothfish predominantly found in Antarctica, may still be enjoyed in our restaurants for some time.

Russia’s Special Representative for Ecology, Sergei Ivanov said “Russia has a proud history of exploration and science and Antarctica. In this time of political turbulence in so many parts of the world, we are pleased to be part of this collaborative international effort to safeguard the Ross Sea.”

When I was in Antarctica aboard the USCGC Glacier in 1970, I had the honor of visiting a Russian station along with a small group of our officers. We joined a dozen Russians for lunch that consisted mostly of pickled food washed down with the best vodka I’ve ever had. In the midst of the Cold War, we got drunk together, raised both the American and Russian flags high above their station, and then gave them a tour of our ship. That experience left me with the feeling that there could be real cooperation between our countries. The recent agreement to create a huge marine reserve in Antarctica underscores that such cooperation can and does happen.

Antarctica is the only continent that has never experienced a war. The Antarctic Treaty has been a model for international cooperation since 1959.