... or Marine Protected Areas, in government speak. On Tuesday the Foreign Office announced the creation of the South Orkneys MPA. Covering a large area of the Southern Ocean in the British Antarctic Territory, it will be the world's first "high-seas" reserve - off-limits to all types of fishing and dumping.
The new MPA will be over 90,000 kilometres square when it comes into force in May 2010 (to put that in perspective, it's four times the size of Wales but just 0.4% of the entire Southern Ocean. It was given the go-ahead at last week's meeting of the 25 nation strong Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which will be responsible for enforcing the protected status of the area.
Dr Phil Trathan of the British Antarctic Survey, who took a leading role in the research that led to the MPA's creation, explained its importance:
"It will help conserve important ecosystem processes, vulnerable areas, and create reference sites that can be used to make scientific comparisons between fished areas and no-take areas. Such networks will become increasingly important as climate change impacts become increasingly evident in the future."
And there is more potential good news. The FCO simultaneously announced two new consultations. The first will look into providing enhanced environmental protection for Antarctica, while the second could see the British Indian Ocean (BIOT) territory known as the Chagos Archipelago become one of the world's largest marine reserves.
Pollutant levels in both Chagos waters and marine life are exceptionally low, which make it particularly appropriate for use as a global reference baseline. There is a great deal of international interest in the site, which is felt to be a particularly suitable center for research into many aspects of oceanography, biodiversity and climate change.
Dr Charles Sheppard, BIOT's scientific adviser explained why:
"Very few areas of the world’s oceans are in a condition remotely like their natural condition: Chagos is one of them, and if made a refuge for species and habitats it can provide a guide to many other conservation efforts around the world."