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New Zealand's Antarctic Commitment Welcomed

Saturday 20 January 2007 - Wellington

New Zealand's Antarctic Commitment Welcomed - Environmental Risks Need Action

New Zealand's commitment to Antarctica, particularly our science and environmental work, is welcomed today by the Environment and Conservation Organisations of New Zealand.

"Urgent risks to the Antarctic Environment still need action," says Cath Wallace, co-chair of ECO.

"Climate change is the greatest threat to the destabilisation of the Antarctic ice sheets, and to the global environment. Global action is required and New Zealand needs to catch up with Europe and other countries who have got busy with emissions reductions."

"Toothfish fishing is a serious risk to the Antarctic environment, albatross and petrel populations across the Southern Ocean, with significant declines in albatross and petrel species in the last 20 years. Other significant threats to the Antarctic marine environment are the krill fisheries.

"Krill, small crustacea the length of a thumb, are the staple food of many species from squid and fish to ballen whales. Over-harveting, the outcome of most fisheries world wide and in Antarctica, could cause havoc to the marine ecosystem.

"Fishing for toothfish (Antarctic and Patagonian) is a major concern: and regrettably New Zealand fishing companies have pushed for areas to be opened up and their pressure on the government has inhibited better conservation measures."

"The international community will be paying more attention to the krill and toothfish fisheries and has already called for a the creation of a large marine protected area in the Ross Sea - a compromise under pressure from New Zealand officials from an earlier position for the whole of the Ross Sea to be protected.

"It is incumbent on New Zealand to work harder within the Antarctic Treaty System processes, particularly the Protocol on Environmental Protection and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to promote the Ross Sea Protected Area. New Zealand needs to do more.

"Antarctic conservation efforts by New Zealand have varied over the years. We have seen millions invested in the preservation of the Antarctic explorers' huts but we need much more conservation of the Antarctic's own fragile ecosystems, particularly the marine ecosystems. New Zealand could move back to her earlier position of conservation leader rather than the position of fishing interest promoter that we have seen too often in the past.

"ECO welcomes the New Zealand investment in Antarctic science, including climate change and marine biodiversity. This needs to be boosted. We also need to ensure that the work on the marine biodiversity doesn't simply serve as the "prospecting" for fishing interests and bio-prospecting for other interests."

"ECO hopes that the New Zealand government will also lend its name to efforts to limit the risks to the marine and the continental environment posed by ever larger tour vessels in the Antarctic - some are too huge to allow any feasible rescue in the event of disaster, let alone any environmental clean up in the case of oil spills."

"Like other New Zealanders, we salute all those who have explored and worked in Antarctica; and we applaud the improvements in environmental "housekeeping" and energy systems on Antarctica."

ENDS

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