As we come up to the launch of the Our South Books, exhibitions and talks. I thought it would be useful to recap some of the key points about why New Zealand’s southern region is so important.
New Zealand has stewardship of an area that extends from Stewart Island almost without interruption to the South Pole.
- The subantarctic islands help give New Zealand one of the five largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the world.
- The Southern Ocean and Antarctica are the engine room of the world’s oceans and climate.
- The subantarctic islands are like life-rafts in the Southern Ocean for animals breeding and feeding.
We need to manage humankind’s race for resources:
- New Zealand has claim over the Ross Dependency, but under the Antarctic Treaty we agreed to disagree over claims and manage Antarctica through consensus with other countries.
- This Treaty system successfully defused conflict over Antarctica and put in place a great deal of environmental protection for the Continent (including a ban on mining).
- Our investment in science and diplomacy are essential to maintaining this Treaty.
- Whaling and sealing were good examples of how not to manage natural resources. These days, partly thanks to the efforts of New Zealand, we are managing resources like fish much better.
- However, the consensus approach to managing Antarctica creates some problems and there is always the risk that countries may leave and do their own thing – we need to work to keep the Treaty relevant.
Climate Change happening and is the greatest threat facing the region:
- The Southern Ocean is warming.
- The westerly winds have intensified and shifted south by 150km. Currents are changing as a result.
- The Antarctic Peninsula is warming rapidly and West Antarctica is losing ice due to the warmer waters around it.
- Human created carbon dioxide emissions are the most likely cause of these changes.
The three major threats to the endangered wildlife of Our Far South are climate change, fishing and land based predators:
- Land based predators such as mice on the Antipodes and pigs and cats on Auckland Island damage precious habitat and reduce the breeding success of wildlife. DOC are world leaders at eradicating these pests.
- Changes in currents could be behind reductions in some species (e.g. rock hopper penguins), for example by driving their prey deeper, making them harder to hunt.
- Fishing is also a major threat to some species, particularly some sea birds.
To look after the area first we need to know what is happening. More monitoring and basic science is needed.
We are blessed to live in this unique part of the world, but we also have a huge responsibility to look after it. Our Far South = Our Backyard.