Last week Gareth Morgan went Fishing for Facts in the Ross Sea and found mostly fantasy, and this week again misunderstood our proposal (Extreme Green risks Ross Sea own goal). Thus, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) finds itself responding to misinformed criticism of our campaign as well as the science that backs it up.

The AOA team respect Gareth Morgan's and his colleague Geoff Simmons' contribution to conservation. In the last few months the dynamic duo have done a lot to raise the profile of the islands and ocean south of New Zealand with their Our Far South Voyage. One of our campaign partners, WWF, is working with Gareth Morgan on his plan to make the Antipodes Islands mouse free. We generally appreciate the positive contribution that Gareth and Geoff make.

That's why it was disappointing to read these two columns, containing the latest in a string of misinformed statements from him about the AOA.

The AOA was formed late last year by a group of organisations including the environmental organisations WWF, Greenpeace, Forest and Bird, ECO and Last Ocean and a group of philanthropists with a marine conservation focus, called Oceans Five. Collectively, these organisations have millions of members and supporters around the world. Those on board have many years of experience in Antarctic campaigning, having, between them, attended most key diplomatic meetings on the management of the Antarctic since the 1960s.


The trigger for forming the AOA was the development of an historic opportunity via the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to create a network of marine reserves and marine protected areas around the Antarctic. One of the members of the AOA, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) has a unique role at CCAMLR representing the views of non-government organisations (NGOs) and submitting papers to the Commission on conservation and fisheries management. We know New Zealand can't do it alone.

The AOA is identifying the areas around the Antarctic that deserve protection and is campaigning for those areas to become no-take marine reserves. We're using the best available science and, because it is one of CCAMLR's first priorities, started with the Ross Sea region.

Gareth has accused scientists that he disagrees with of refusing to front up over their research methods. I've spoken to two of them and learnt that, not only have they fronted up, their work has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication. Hardly the 'epitome of sloppy science' he has suggested.

Gareth has also inaccurately dismissed expert views on what is unknown about Antarctic toothfish. Actually, no one has seen toothfish eggs; or seen the species itself under four years old; it's only conjecture where they spawn and at what depth; no-one knows for sure how often they breed; and, no one knows how much other species rely on toothfish for food. No scientist would say 'we know almost nothing about toothfish,' but most would agree that there is still a great deal we don't know.

It's fine that Gareth promotes the New Zealand Government Ross Sea protection scenario; the Government has made a good start. But it is wrong for him to campaign by saying things about other, more-extensive proposals that are clearly untrue.

Where the AOA proposal differs from New Zealand's is in our approach to trade-offs. This is not actually a question of science, it's a question of politics. To its credit, New Zealand has been upfront about the trade-offs it is arguing for between fishing and conservation and has openly calculated what effect they will have in its marine reserve scenario.

Our approach is based on the principle that in the remarkable wilderness that is the Antarctic, conservation comes first. This is not anti-fishing, but about setting the right priorities. We have, on the basis of the best available scientific information, identified those areas that deserve protection because of the wildlife and natural processes that these areas contain.

We've been upfront about our criteria for the Ross Sea region, which are:

1. Protection of the biodiversity and ecological processes associated with the Ross Sea gyre.

2. Protection of areas critical to the life-history stages of the Antarctic toothfish the region's top fish predator. These include the feeding and presumed spawning grounds of the toothfish.

3. Protection of critical features including the seamounts, ridges and troughs of the Pacific Antarctic Ridge, and associated life forms.

4. Broad protection that facilitates the continuation and expansion of long-term datasets that underpin crucial research into ecosystem function and environmental change, including the impacts of climate change, particularly ocean acidification.

5. Protection of biodiversity hot spots such as the Ross Sea shelf and slope, Balleny Islands, Pacific Antarctic Ridge and the Scott Seamounts.

6. Protection of the Ross Sea region as a critical climate reference area, and climate refugium for ice- dependent species.

We used the same information that underpins the New Zealand and United States proposals for the Ross Sea region, but our maps are different because we make more conservation-focused political trade-offs in our proposal.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance has further identified 19 specific areas around Antarctica that deserve protection on their own merits.

Our report and map of these areas is available to all here.

We know from years of experience that the politicians and diplomats involved with CCAMLR will also do that during the up-coming process of negotiation. Our partners are represented across every continent, including the fishing nations that are key to decisions on marine reserves in the Antarctic. Our job is to make sure that the all those areas that deserve protection are put in front of decision makers with as much public support as is possible for the best possible outcome for now and for future generations.

* Geoff Keey is New Zealand Coordinator of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance.