Story: Antarctica and New Zealand

Page 6. Conventions and protocols

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After the Antarctic Treaty came into effect in 1961, consultative party meetings were initially held every two years. Since 1994 they have (with one exception) been held annually. New Zealand has twice hosted these meetings – in Wellington in 1972 and in Christchurch in 1997. Because treaty partners host the meetings in alphabetical order, New Zealand will probably not host another full Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting until at least 2028.

Resource conservation

The consultative meetings helped ensure that the Antarctic Treaty system developed over time. At first, progress was slow. Eleven years after the treaty came into force, a convention for the conservation of Antarctic seals was agreed on. In 1980 there was another development: a Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was signed in Canberra.

CCAMLR was negotiated as a result of concerns about increased krill catches in the southern oceans. Article 2 of the convention stated that it was designed to prevent the ‘decrease in the size of any harvested population to levels below those which ensure its stable recruitment.’ In the 2000s New Zealand was concerned about the levels of fishing in the Antarctic (especially of toothfish) and strongly supported CCAMLR’s aims. In practice little could be done to monitor, let alone police, catch levels. Observers also feared that an increase in long-line fishing in the Ross Sea would increase the mortality rate of sea birds.

In 2016 New Zealand and the United States played leading roles in securing the creation of the world's largest marine reserve - 1.55 million square kilometres - in the Ross Sea.

Japan’s whaling operations in the southern oceans have been an additional subject of attention and acrimonious debate.

Environmental protection

At a consultative meeting in the mid-1970s New Zealand promoted a proposal for establishing Antarctica as a world park. The initiative received no support at all. Likewise, negotiations for a Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities were concluded in Wellington in 1988, but it was soon obvious that there was not enough support for the convention to be adopted.

End of the dog era

Huskies – sometimes called sledge dogs – were indispensable to early Antarctic expeditions. They also sailed south with the team that built Scott Base, and were stationed there from 1957 until 1987. They pulled sledges for surveyors and scientists, and sometimes simply took Scott Base staff for a spin on the snow. A few years after they left, the Madrid Protocol banned all introduced species (other than people) from the continent. The era of the dogs was over.

However, a breakthrough occurred in 1991. Recognising the need to protect the Antarctic environment, its ecosystems and wilderness, treaty nations adopted a Protocol on Environmental Protection (often called the Madrid Protocol). This ensured that mutually agreed resolutions about the Antarctic environment were legally binding on Antarctic Treaty nations. Given that the protocol’s aim was to ‘designate Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science’ and that mining has effectively been banned on the continent, New Zealand’s policy goals were eventually achieved – albeit via a slow and tortuous route – 30 years after the Antarctic Treaty was initially ratified.

How to cite this page:

Nigel Roberts, 'Antarctica and New Zealand - Conventions and protocols', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/antarctica-and-new-zealand/page-6 (accessed 17 October 2017)

Story by Nigel Roberts, published 20 Jun 2012