A 2 million-square-kilometre patchwork of marine reserves surrounding Antarctica could protect an exquisite and unique ecosystem, but tensions between countries responsible for conserving life in the southern seas could put the whole project in jeopardy.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources is currently meeting in Hobart. It will decide on Friday whether to create marine protected areas (MPAs) around Antarctica, which could double the area of the world’s oceans currently protected.