24 Nov 2014

Conservationists buoyed by Antarctic deal

7:20 am on 24 November 2014

Environmentalists are hoping that an agreement between New Zealand and China to work more closely together in Antarctica is actually an attempt to secure the world's largest marine reserve.

Frost smoke rises from the sea off the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

Frost smoke rises from the sea off the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Photo: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

China and New Zealand announced an Arrangement on Antarctic cooperation late last week.

China has blocked New Zealand's attempt to turn the Ross Sea into the world's largest marine protected area twice now, and it is well known that it wants to be involved in the continent to ensure it gets a share of oil and mineral reserves if they ever become unprotected.

But China is upping its science investment on the ice too, with its public budget is now more than double what New Zealand spends.

The University of Canterbury's Professor Anne-Marie Brady specialises in China's polar interests, and raised the idea of a co-operation agreement with the Chinese embassy.

She said the deal would see a lot of benefits for both countries.

"China is strong on capacity and funding, but not strong on scientific output. New Zealand surpasses them on that, so China could benefit from that partnership"

Professor Brady said China had very different perspectives on Antarctica when compared to New Zealand's pro-environmental stance.

"We can't ignore that many countries look at Antarctica as a site for resources, and if we want to help influence their public's opinion, then we need to engage with them."

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully was not available for comment but in a statement said the deal would allow more closer engagements on policy, environment, science and logistics.

Peter Young from the Last Ocean Trust is hoping that closer relationships on the ice could benefit New Zealand's proposal to turn the Ross Sea into a protected area.

He attended last month's meeting on the matter, known as CCAMLR, and said everyone was confused by China's intentions.

"China was behaving a little badly at CCAMLR, annoying other countries. They didn't go into it wanting to work collaboratively, they were blocking ideas, and pushing the patience of other countries"

Barry Weeber is the chair of Environment and Conservation Organisations of Aotearoa New Zealand, or ECO.

He is also hoping the deal will result in benefits.

"New Zealand has played a strong role in Ross Sea, and has a strong logistic agreement with USA and Korea, so the co-operation agreement is not unexpected. We have to hope that that evolves into a stronger collaborative relationship so there is more chance to see eye-to-eye on more policy issues"

Bob Zuur from the World Wide Fund for Nature agreed. He said the deal showed great hope and promise.

"We have to take the current agreement on face values. It's got to be good for both countries, and hopefully will result in a protected area being created within a years' time."

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