ECO Working to Protect Antarctica

ECO’s role in Antarctic Conservation Work

 By Cath Wallace

ECO’s role in Antarctic conservation work is set to intensify with the Antarctic Ocean Alliance’s international campaign for the creation of a network of large marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean and especially for the Ross Sea to be created as a no-take marine protected area.  ECO is a member of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance and is joined by Greenpeace NZ, Forest and Bird and other New Zealand organisations.

ECO has actively pursued Antarctic conservation since 1982 when we became the coordinating focal point for the New Zealand branch of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, ASOC, which is administering the AOA campaign now.

In 1982 Antarctic Treaty Countries operated in great secrecy and set about developing rules for mining in Antarctica.  That was primarily about oil.  ECO played, along with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, a key role in challenging the whole idea of rules for mining in favour of environmental protection rules and a permanent ban on mining.

From 1982 to 1990 that campaign grew from a handful of us to a major international campaign.  The Treaty Parties negotiated a Minerals Regime from 1982-1988. When they opened up the Regime for signature, they found that ASOC’s campaign work meant intense global public opposition and the defection of several countries.  New Zealand wanted the Regime and our diplomat Chris Beeby had chaired the negotiations very ably.  But ECO and ASOC believed that this skill was misdirected and that environmental protection rules were needed instead.

By the end of 1989 the Minerals Regime was in trouble, and instead the Treaty Parties set about negotiating the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty, including provision for protected areas and an indefinite ban on mining which cannot even begin to be challenged until about 2050 under the Protocol.

ECO’s work on all this was internationally recognised, but that was not all.  We have worked on Antarctic marine issues via the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CCAMLR, with Barry Weeber, ECO co-chair being a regular at those meetings, often on the NZ delegation, sometimes with ASOC.  Barry is au fait with CCAMLR scientific Committee processes and technical detail and the processes and issues of the Commission itself. 

ECO is an active member of ASOC and we also continue to pursue Antarctic related conservation issues via the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN and of course within New Zealand with officials and Ministers.

CCAMLR sets the conditions under which any fishing is allowed.  It is CCAMLR that has set in motion the bio-regionalisation process which is considering the areas for marine protection.  New Zealand has developed a scenario for Ross Sea marine protection but key areas for fishing on the Ross Sea shelf and slope are left open to fishing, and areas not now available to fishing would be opened up. Further, the New Zealand scenario would only prevent one kind of fishing at a time, not all.  The USA has a somewhat stronger proposal but even this leaves the Ross Sea vulnerable.

The Ross Sea is especially important as the last of the oceans with the top predators still largely present. The risk is that continued toothfish fishing and other fishing will cause major upset to the ecosystem balance, as has happened elsewhere.  In this issue of ECOLink we provide an exploration of the values and issues at stake, part of the opening of the international campaign for the protection of the Ross Sea. 

If you wish to help assist ECO with this campaign, please send us a cheque, go to our website to donate, or deposit money in our account, with your name, and “Antarctic” as your reference.  Your help will be hugely appreciated.