Maintaining the integrity of the Antarctic treaty is fundamental to protecting Antarctica. The UK’s leading role within the Antarctic treaty system has allowed us to push consistently for increased levels of protection for the continent’s vulnerable environment, and we are committed to continuing to do so.
“Blue Planet II”, among other things, reminds us all of the very delicate and extremely vulnerable biodiversity of our deep oceans—particularly those around the Antarctic continent. Yet, when the nations of the world proposed there should be a marine protected area for the Weddell sea—an area seven times the size of Germany—that was resisted particularly by two nations, namely Russia and China. In the Secretary of State’s forthcoming visit to Russia, will he take the opportunity of pressing the Russians to support the rest of the international community in pressing for a marine protected area for the Weddell sea?
I am very happy to put that on our agenda, but may I also reassure my hon. Friend that the UK is a co-proponent of the proposal to establish a marine protected area in the Weddell sea, and that is being developed by the European Union and its member states? British scientists are taking a leading role in preparing a final MPA proposal, which is to be presented to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources in October next year.
The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) mentioned “Blue Planet II”, and 12 million people watched it on Sunday. We want to know what the Government are going to do to protect the beautiful environment around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Will the Government now commit to establishing a marine sanctuary around this British overseas territory?
This issue has been championed very much by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). Indeed, it is not just in the Antarctic that the UK is championing marine protection. The UK is on track to deliver our Blue Belt manifesto commitment around the overseas territories. We will have protected 4 million sq km of ocean by 2020, and the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands were designated in 2012 as a sustainable use MPA covering 1 million sq km. The first formal review of that will take place next year.