Ocean call

Last updated 12:43 27/08/2012
Penguins
CRAIG POTTON

Sacrosanct: Emperor penguins are among the abundant wildlife in Antarctica, described by conservationists as the last unspoiled environment on Earth

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CRAIG POTTON
Pack ice: Marine life is abundant in the Ross Sea where sub-zero temperatures keep oxygen levels high in the sea water
CRAIG POTTON
Individuals who take a stand can help protect our planet, says photographer Craig Potton. He is one of three people speaking in Blenheim on Thursday to raise awareness of natural ecologies threatened in Antarctica if protection is not put in place.

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Marlburians can add their voice to a worldwide call to protect the Earth's last unspoiled ocean.

Nelson publisher-photographer Craig Potton, a self-labelled conservationist and social rights activist, will speak at an Antarctic Oceans Alliance (AOA) presentation in Blenheim on Thursday evening.

It will be hosted by the Marlborough Royal Forest & Bird Society and Craig, an executive member of its national body, will be joined by AOA New Zealand co-ordinator Geoff Keey and Royal Forest & Bird Society regional field officer Debs Martin.

The AOA is an international union of non-government organisations on a global campaign to establish marine reserves around Antarctica.

It is a topic Craig feels an empathy with after twice visiting the frozen continent to photograph wildlife, sea and landscape scenes for two books.

Craig remembers being shown an Antarctic toothfish. It was before the long-lived, slow-breeding fish became a commercial catch for New Zealand and foreign fishing companies and he still remembers how he felt, looking "eye to eye" at the specimen.

It showed no fear, he says, proof that there was still one place left on Earth where life was still sacrosanct.

In 1996 two New Zealand fishing vessels ventured into the Ross Sea and made the first toothfish cull. Shipping companies from other countries followed.

Strict regulations have been set internationally by the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, dictating how many toothfish can be taken each year from the Southern Ocean.

But the AOA is calling for no-take marine reserves to protect 19 key Antarctic marine habitats, covering 3.6 million square kilometres of the Ross Sea.

In a telephone interview this week, Geoff acknowledged the New Zealand and United States' Governments have proposals for Ross Sea marine reserve. Neither measure up to the AOA's expectations.

"The New Zealand one tends to have lines drawn to protect fishing; they are willing to protect areas where there isn't much fishing. That defeats the needs of having a marine reserve."

Three key areas for reserves are identified by the AOA.

The most crucial is in the south of the Ross Sea, where orca, seals, toothfish and penguins are all found. Geoff says it is the only part of ocean in the world where the top predators are still intact.

Fish further down the chain are also abundant, proof of a well-balanced ecosystem. Craig says human activities in other areas prove such balance is easily lost.

Antarctica may seem a relentlessly imposing, resilient place but regions with extreme temperatures, like the Arctic Circle or tropical rainforests, cannot recover as temperate zones can when the ecology collapses.

"Places like Antarctica have massive biodiversity because cold water holds more oxygen than warm water . . . that also means it can be destroyed more easily.

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"I am angry at how little people are able to fire up our respective governments about global warming. We're putting a lot of weight on nature and, whether it collapses or becomes worse, one thing is for sure, it ain't going to get better."

To individuals who feel powerless to change decisions made by industry or political bodies, Craig says small groups can make a difference. He says he is 60 years old and he has been "fighting' since he was 15.

Campaigns he has joined include pressuring the Government to abandon forestry plans along West Coast beaches and protesting against rugby tours to South Africa when apartheid ruled.

"We have the opportunity to learn from the past. By stopping further fishing in the Ross Sea we can preserve the last intact marine ecosystem on Earth."

 

TALK DATE

Craig Potton, Geoff Keey and Debs Martin will start their illustrated talk at 7.30pm on Thursday in the Blenheim School hall.

- The Marlborough Express

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