Waters overlying the Ross Sea continental shelf and slope comprise slightly more than 3% of the Southern Ocean, which is inconsequential, yet its attributes, as identified in this workshop, coincide closely with the criteria agreed to by the UN Convention for Biological Diversity to identify Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas. Information revealed at the workshop indicated that the Ross Sea:
- on the basis that its northwestern shelf was an unglaciated refuge during recent glacial maxima, and that its fauna, especially its notothenioid fish, now comprise a unique evolutionary radiation on par with those recognized in World Heritage Sites designated elsewhere (e.g., Galàpagos, African Rift Lakes, Lake Baikal);
- on the basis of projections made from current models in the IPCC array, it likely will be the last stretch of ocean on Earth, perhaps within the current century, that will embrace a cryopelagic community of organisms; and
- it is the best studied stretch of high latitude ocean in the Southern Hemisphere, including its a) geologic history, geophysical characteristics, and characterization of its seafloor substrate; b) circulation; c) polynya-facilitated biogeochemical processes leading to extremely high primary production; d) benthic-pelagic coupling whereby water column production enriches the benthic community; e) diverse assemblage of benthic fauna, depending on substrate, slope, current velocities and biological interactions, and varying in age from 1000’s of years to succession stages of iceberg scour events; and f) a paradoxical (in today’s world) low level of zooplankton abundance in the context of g) a robust pelagic assemblage of numerous large fish, aerial birds, penguins, pinnipeds and whales.
The Ross Sea is in much the state as it has been for millennia. Data presented at the workshop, and obtained from sources elsewhere, will be compiled using GIS and modelling techniques, collaborating with PRBO Conservation Science and World Conservation Monitoring Centre, UNEP, into a full report to propose and justify reserving the Ross Sea for science and human heritage. The intent is to have that full report available by autumn 2009.