ShutterstockStill open for fishing.

You can’t get much farther from Antarctica than Russia. Yet it was Russia that this week sunk American- and New Zealand-led efforts to create sprawling marine reserves around the South Pole.

The multi-nation Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources met in Germany this week to discuss proposals to protect more than 1.5 million square miles from the growing threat of fishing. The meeting was called after the countries that make up the committee failed to reach agreement on the proposals last year. From Nature:

There was widespread hope that new reserves in the Ross Sea and in East Antarctica would be approved this week …

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But [Tuesday] at the meeting the Russian delegation questioned the very authority of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which regulates fishing in Antarctica, to create reserves, several participants said. To establish any reserve requires the agreement of all 25 members.

This has enraged NGOs, who pointed out that CCAMLR has already created one such ‘marine protected area’ and that all of the commission’s members had previously agreed in principle that it should create such zones. NGO representatives accused Russia of coming in bad faith to the meeting, which was convened specifically to discuss the marine reserves after they were not agreed to at another meeting last year.

“Everyone here is very disappointed,” says Steve Campbell, campaign director at the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, a coalition of groups pushing for more marine protection in the region. “There is no doubt CCAMLR has authority to establish these areas.”

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Reserve supporters aren’t giving up hope, though. The proposals will be considered again in October when the committee gathers in Australia for its next regular meeting.