Sunday, January 24, 1999 Published at 21:39 GMT
Protecting Antarctica's future
Antarctica: Facing increasing pressure
The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, has warned about the dangers to Antarctica from illegal exploitation of its resources.
Her country has called a conference of more than 20 nations to discuss ways of protecting the continent. The get-together is being held on Antarctica itself, starting on Monday, and will last three days.
The Prime Minister said the so-called "Ministerial on Ice" would focus the world's attention on the continent's problems.
"We think that it is an area the world needs to know a lot more about," she told the BBC.
"While there are treaties that exist there, we feel that until people see, through the images of the media the importance of it ... you don't sense the passion of keeping this zone very carefully managed."
Last year, the Antarctic Treaty gained new life with the ratification of an environmental protocol. This bans mining for 50 years, puts strict limits on pollution and waste disposal, and spells out measures to protect wildlife.
In 1998, it received about 10,000 tourists. The great explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who has tried to walk across the continent, said that any more tourists would increase pollution.
"It much better to prevent too much tourism that to try to cure it afterwards."
Of more pressing concern, however, is the issue of how to protect fish stocks. Australia's Environment Minister, Robert Hill, said he will urge the meeting to crack down on illegal catches.
The birds are at risk from "long line" vessels, which set lines up to 100 km in length, with up to 20,000 baited hooks. Birds which take the hooks in their mouths are pulled under water and drowned.
Greenpeace estimates that 100,000 seabirds die annually in this way. It has asked British supermarkets which stock the main species concerned, the Antarctic sea bass, to stop buying it.
The UK Environement Minister Michael Meacher said he is keen to address all these issues.
The ministers will stay at New Zealand's Scott base and the nearby US McMurdo station. They will see the way Antarctica has been affected by environmental change, from ozone depletion to global warming.
They include leather sledging traces, a cigarette tin, and a candle lantern. All had belonged to a New Zealander who donated them to the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge for return to Antarctica.