Friday, 9 March 2012

Our Far South – values, sustainability, and stewardship

The Our Far South crew in Antarctica. Picture by
 Mike Wilkinson.
As I write this we are heading into Lyttelton, where the ‘Our Far South’ voyage will reach its final destination.  From there, the 50 members of the ‘Our Far South’ crew will go their separate ways and once again resume their multitude of different activities and interests. This marvelous group of people has looked at issues around the lands and seas south of New Zealand, including the Ross Dependency.  The Crew and I have seen things that were previously just words on a page or a picture in a book.  Our country’s involvement in the history, management, and future of the area has been scrutinised and debated.  There is no doubt in my mind that all aboard have been changed in some way by the experience – I certainly have. The opportunity to  see some of this vast area, with my own eyes and through the eyes of others; combined with access to the extensive collective knowledge of ‘captive’ and willing  experts; mixed with a shared desire to learn and ultimately to educate; and make a difference was a heady brew.

What did I learn? I saw some of the success stories - the clearance of pest mammals from Campbell Island, its turnaround from a bleak sheep-grazed, rat infested southern outpost was one thing that resonated strongly with me.  I also learned that there are still many more challenges to face, such as feral animal control on Stewart Island and other sub-Antarctic Islands, that funding for these important areas was low and very restricted, and that when balancing funding priorities for effective management of our off-shore sub-Antarctic Islands, pest control was the only clear priority – a no-brainer. 

The Ross Sea - a part of 'Our Far South'
From my fisheries perspective it reinforced my belief that as fishers with access to the resources of the area we have a clear responsibility to do our part in protecting both the environment, the ecosystem–particularly the unique and irreplaceable birds, animals, and other creatures that make this region home.  The group discussed the Ross Sea toothfish fishery and generally concluded that it was well managed at a precautionary level at the moment and stacked up as well, if not better, than many domestic New Zealand fisheries.  We looked the potential implementation of Marine Protected Areas
(MPAs) in the Ross Sea Region and favored New Zealand’s research based approach, based on a huge amount of work and extensive consultation over more recent calls for closures of almost the entire area. In my opinion such ill-considered and extravagant proposals would never reach consensus at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living resources – the responsible Management body - and will probably harden the attitude of Members that might have initially agreed to the New Zealand proposal based on the science grounded Systematic Environmental Planning approach.

From another viewpoint we learned how much the New Zealand science community contributes to international studies on Antarctic fisheries, climate change, geology, and many other polar based disciplines – a huge output and for our size in a world scale, a disproportionate amount of great science.

I learned much more of the real and looming threats that climate change poses to both the sub-Antarctic and the Antarctic regions and of the recent work that has been carried out in Antarctica.

For me the ultimate message was stewardship.  If we call it ours we must look after it.  We assert ownership over and manage our 200 mile economic zone, and we still maintain our claim to the Ross Dependency.  With this ownership comes the responsibility to protect, manage, and where necessary rebuild the ecosystems of this southern region - ‘Our Far South’.
Sustainability in our fisheries, protection of our environment, and appreciation for what we still have and what we have already lost were the key things that I will take home with me and remember.