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Ross Sea becomes Antarctica world’s largest protected area

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(CNN) — An enormous Antarctic bay, home to penguins and killer whales, became the world’s largest protected marine area on Friday.

A United Nations body sealed the deal after five years of negotiations, at a meeting in Hobart, Tasmania.

“It’s near pristine and how many near pristine parts of the ocean do we have left on the planet?” WWF Australia Ocean Science Manager Chris Johnson told CNN.

Twenty-four nations and the European Union agreed unanimously to declare the Ross Sea in Antarctica an official Marine Protected Area after negotiations brokered by the UN’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources

According to the UN, 50% of ecotype-C killer whales (the smallest of the four types of Southern Hemisphere orcas), 40% of Adelie penguins and 25% of emperor penguins live in the area covered by the new park.

“The data collected from this ‘living laboratory’ helps us understand the significant changes taking place on Earth right now,” United States scientist David Ainley, one of the first to call for the area to be protected, said in a statement.

35-year limit on deal

Not everyone is completely happy with the deal however — Johnson told CNN the Ross Sea deal would expire in 35 years.

“While we’re very excited about this we don’t want it to become a precedent for other marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean,” he said.

For a new marine park to be declared, Johnson said every country involved must agree — complete consensus is required.

“This has been a long, ongoing, challenging debate and I believe this one of the compromises in terms of getting that 100% consensus,” he said.

Johnson said the WWF would be working hard to make the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area permanent.

“It’s critical to set aside these really epic spots for diversity, not just as marine parks but as places that can build resistance to the changing climate,” he said.

‘Speedo diplomacy’ helped sway Russia

Russia had voted against the new protected area on five previous occasions before finally agreeing on Friday.

In a statement, a United Nations spokesman gave credit to UN Environment’s Patron of the Ocean Lewis Pugh, who has worked over the past two years to gain Russia’s agreement.

He even swum in the icy waters of the Ross Sea in 2015 to raise attention for the issue, in what was described as “speedo diplomacy.”

“I am overjoyed,” Pugh said in a statement. “The Ross Sea is one of the most magnificent places on Earth. It is one of our last great wilderness areas. This is a dream come true.”

According to the United Nations spokesman, Pugh made multiple trips to Russia to convince officials of the Ross Sea’s value.