Known as Burdwood Bank, the protected area encompasses 694 square miles rich in hard and soft coral species found nowhere else on Earth.
Burdwood Bank serves as an important feeding ground for whales, sea lions, penguins, and albatross. It is also the breeding ground for two ecologically important fish species - southern blue whiting and Fuegian sardines.
The community of top predators and migratory species in this area come from as far away as Antarctica, South Georgia Island, and New Zealand.
Rockhopper penguins are one of the species that depend on Burdwood Bank. (Photo by K. Pütz courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society)
The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society has identified Burdwood Bank as a critical wildlife area under its Sea and Sky initiative, which seeks to promote precautionary management of the vast Patagonian Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem, one of the most productive regions in the southern hemisphere.
On September 26, Argentine Fisheries Secretary Carlos Cheppi implemented a Federal Fisheries Council mandate, which permanently banned all fishing activities in the area including bottom trawling - an industrial fishing method that employs large, heavy nets dragged across the seabed.
While the method captures the desired target fish, it also kills corals, sponges, and other animals. The method is known to be destructive of underwater ecosystems that serve as spawning grounds and ecological storehouses.
"Armed with sound science, Consejo Federal Pesquero has taken a big step in ensuring sustainability in Argentina's fishing industry by protecting Burdwood Bank," said Dr. Claudio Campagna, of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Sea and Sky Program.
The Wildlife Conservation Society's involvement in the region dates back to the 1970s and has included research, training, education, and policy development.
The Sea and Sky initiative seeks to promote precautionary management at the ecosystem level for this vast oceanscape, within which Burdwood Bank is an essential link.
"With the protection of this small, but critical area, the ocean is better able to replenish what we take from it, and equally important, Argentina's unique biodiversity is preserved," said Campagna.
The ecosystem which contains and surrounds the Patagonian Shelf, harbors some of the southern hemisphere's richest marine resources, sustained by the nutrient-rich Falklands-Malvinas and Brazil currents.
The southernmost small dotted area is Burdwood Bank.
The Patagonian Large Marine Ecosystem has a history of exploitation to the point that populations of many species are declining and have been given IUCN Globally Threatened Status.
Unsustainable, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing by commercial fleets threatens many fish and squid species found on the continental shelf and slope off Argentine Patagonia, and adversely impacts wildlife higher in the food chain.
Some of the species that depend on the food resources of the Patagonian Large Marine Ecosystem are the Southern elephant seal, the Southern right whale, the South American sea lion, South American and subantarctic fur seals, and Patagonian toothfish.
Trawlers in the South Atlantic have nearly exhausted populations of Argentine hake, a popular food fish that once was common along the coast of Argentina. A commercial fishing ban on the Burdwood Bank may help to revive the species.
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