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Aliens in Antarctica

07 April 2006

Media Statement
For Immediate Release

Aliens in Antarctica

The ever-increasing threat posed by alien species to Antarctica’s fragile ecosystems will be the focus of a three-day international workshop, being held in Christchurch next week. Hosted by Antarctica New Zealand, Canterbury University’s Gateway Antarctica and the University of Auckland’s Centre for Biodiversity and Biosecurity, the Non-Native Species in Antarctica Workshop will look at current risks, future management options and policy advice and direction to ensure Antarctica’s environmental future remains free of invasive plants, animals and micro-organisms.

The workshop will be opened by the Hon Jim Anderton, Minister for Biosecurity, who says New Zealand is ideally placed to host this meeting.

"Our scientists and technicians are the best in the world and they bring an extraordinary commitment to their jobs. Our scientific community's work in biosecurity is critical for New Zealand to maintain its excellent reputation and economic base. This sense of importance and urgency in protecting what is precious to us is the focus we can bring to Antartica's need for protection and management," Jim Anderton said.

Barry O'Neil, Director, Biosecurity New Zealand also welcomes New Zealand's role in hosting this workshop.

"New Zealand has the most advanced biosecurity system in the world, and our approach to biosecurity has direct relevance to protecting Antarctica from alien species. Many good measures have already been taken to limit the possibility of invasive species arriving and establishing in the Antarctic, but these need to be constantly reviewed and strengthened – over-reliance on Antarctica's extreme climatic conditions to stop invasive species establishing, would be a risky and dangerous strategy," Barry O'Neil said.

On a global scale, biological invasions by alien species are considered one of the leading factors in biodiversity loss and species extinctions. Virtually every ecosysten type on earth has been affected. The Antarctic, due to its isolation and harsh climate, has so far escaped the major damage caused elsewhere – but the writing is on the wall that this may be changing .

"New Zealanders are well-versed in the real and potential devastation that invasive non-native species cause to our environment, economy and culture,” said Antarctica New Zealand Environmental Manager Neil Gilbert. “Despite Antarctica’s relatively inhospitable environment, there are a number of different drivers making Antarctica increasingly vulnerable to colonisation and possible invasion by non-native species.”

Those drivers include a changing climate, which makes Antarctica less hostile environmentally to the establishment of non-native species and a year on year increase in the number of people travelling to the continent, usually via the sensitive marine environment of the Southern Ocean, which along with the continent, is also under threat.

“The workshop provides a formal opportunity to consider the risks associated with non-native species in Antarctica and to discuss what measures we need to put in place to manage those risks,” said Dr Gilbert. “This is the first time the Antarctic Treaty System has focussed on this issue in any comprehensive way, but we need to do so now to ensure we can deal with the issue before it becomes a major problem.”

The workshop includes an international line-up of speakers on topics focusing on biological, terrestrial and marine invasions in the Antarctic region, biodiversity issues, the New Zealand perspective and legal challenges and options for the control of non-native species. Representation is expected from five of the Antarctic Treaty nations, national Antarctic scientists and a number of environmental management experts.

Outcomes from the workshop will include recommendations for future biosecurity management options and policy direction. The report will be presented to the next Antarctic Treaty Meeting, being held in June 2006 in Edinburgh and attended by up to 45 Treaty nations.


ENDS

Gateway Centre for Antarctic Studies: www. anta.canterbury.ac.nz

University of Auckland: www. auckland.ac.nz

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