24 Countries, EU Agree to Create World's Largest Marine Sanctuary Off Antarctica

The international agreement was spearheaded by the U.S. and New Zealand.

— -- An international coalition of countries agreed on Friday to create the world's largest marine sanctuary, setting aside nearly 600,000 square miles of ocean near Antarctica for conservation and scientific study.

"This decision represents an almost unprecedented level of international cooperation regarding a large marine ecosystem," said Andrew Wright, Executive Secretary of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

The U.S. and New Zealand first proposed the protected area in 2011, and the countries involved have been negotiating the details ever since. The new agreement takes effect in December of 2017.

"It has been well worth the wait because there is now agreement among all members that this is the right thing to do and they will all work towards the MPA's successful implementation," Wright said.