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Peters: New Zealand and Antarctica

Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs

17 April 2008
Speech Notes

New Zealand and Antarctica: the next 50 years
Speech to the Antarctica NZ International Polar Year function
BNZ Centre

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you tonight.

Also a special thank you to the Chair of Antarctica New Zealand’s Board, Paul Hargreaves, and the CEO of Antarctica New Zealand, Lou Sanson, for your hospitality this evening as we celebrate New Zealand’s participation in International Polar Year.

It is a pleasure to have with us this evening many representatives of other Antarctic Treaty Parties.

It was a special experience to fly down to Scott Base in January to see first hand our facilities there and the work of New Zealand scientists on the ice.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs is responsible for New Zealand’s interests in Antarctica and is also responsible for the New Zealand Antarctic Institute, or Antarctica New Zealand as it is perhaps better known.

Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Scott Base, as well as 50 years of Antarctic cooperation with the United Sates.

In May 2007 the Prime Minister announced new funding of some $11 million for New Zealand scientific activities for International Polar Year.

An additional $6 million was also made available in last year’s Budget to boost our contribution to the joint logistics pool with the US and Italy, which operates out of Christchurch.

In the wake of these decisions, it made sense to go to Antarctica to get a feel for how our investment in New Zealand’s Antarctic programme is being managed.

At the mid-point of International Polar Year, the visit was an appropriate opportunity to take stock of what had been achieved, and what we could anticipate happening.

It was also a welcome opportunity to visit nearby McMurdo Station and to gain an appreciation of the close working relationship between New Zealanders and Americans.

This International Polar Year has seen some of the most significant science ever carried out by New Zealand in Antarctica. A highlight of visiting Scott Base was the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the success of ANDRILL, one of our major Polar Year projects, along with the United States, Germany, and Italy.

As the plaque records, the ANDRILL project has seen two deep offshore holes drilled in McMurdo Sound, one of which reached an Antarctic record depth of 1,285 metres below the sea floor.

The project resulted in the recovery of continuous, high-quality rock cores under extreme operating conditions, and has significantly advanced our understanding of Antarctica's paleoclimatic and tectonic histories.

During our visit, Scott Base also participated by live video link in the launch of another major Polar Year project.

Back in Wellington, the Research Vessel Tangaroa was preparing to set sail for the Ross Sea to undertake a major marine research voyage as part of the circumpolar Census of Antarctic Marine Life.

In March the New Zealand scientists returned home after eight weeks battling the worst ice conditions seen in the Ross Sea in 30 years.

With them came a haul of scientific treasures, from tiny microbes to giant jellyfish, starfish, and other marine animal life.

Marine scientists will now spend the next few years examining and classifying the collected specimens, including some thought to be new to science.

Their efforts in surveying the biodiversity of the region will contribute significantly to our understanding of the ecosystems of the Ross Sea and our environmental and fisheries management.

It remains New Zealand’s goal to see the establishment of protected areas in the Ross Sea to preserve representative and ecologically sensitive features.

We are determined to play a leading role in protecting the Antarctic environment, and promoting international scientific cooperation in what is a vast natural laboratory.

New Zealand is equally committed to the Antarctic Treaty System, through which Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are managed.

We know that the investment we have made in Antarctic science will pay considerable dividends in the future, including by furthering our understanding of the mechanisms and impacts of climate change.

New Zealand is also ready to uphold the Antarctic Treaty System in the face of threats such as illegal fishing. We make a substantial effort in carrying out surveillance in the Ross Sea, in support of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

The Antarctic Treaty System has contributed much to New Zealand’s own security by ensuring Antarctica’s use exclusively for peaceful purposes.

There will no doubt be many challenges in the future as commercial interest in Antarctica’s resources grows. We will need to manage these challenges wisely and in the cooperative spirit that has characterised the Antarctic Treaty System to date.

Tonight, as a further expression of the government’s commitment to our work in Antarctica, it is a pleasure to announce funding to develop a small wind farm, in partnership with Meridian Energy.

Budget 2008 provides Antarctica New Zealand with additional baseline of $320,000 per year for the building and operation of three wind turbines on Ross Island.

The turbines have the capacity to reduce fuel consumption by roughly 460,000 litres per year.

They produce more than enough power to make Scott Base self-sufficient.

However we hope that in the future this project may make a valued long-term contribution to the joint logistics pool with the US by also providing power to McMurdo station.

It is no mean feat, in extreme polar conditions, to provide a smooth supply of electricity to scientists working in Antarctica.

This is impressive technology, and it will enable an interface to exist between the existing diesel generators and the wind turbines to ensure that the lights go on, and stay on.

In addition, replacing the use of fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy will significantly reduce our carbon footprint on the world’s most pristine continent. Just as significantly, it will reduce the environmental risks associated with getting fuel to the bases.

Ladies and gentlemen, this evening we are celebrating New Zealand’s achievements during International Polar Year, as well as contemplating the next 50 years of our Antarctic endeavours.

Our congratulations and thanks go to everyone involved in Polar Year projects, as well as to all those who have played a part in New Zealand’s exploration and research in Antarctica over the past decades.

We look forward to a bright and successful future on the ice, and to a continuation of the fine spirit of cooperation we have enjoyed with the United States and all our other international partners.


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