WELLINGTON, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Governments with interest in the Antarctic need to cooperate more closely if the environmental impact of increasing human activity is to be properly managed, according to an expert on governance of the frozen continent.
Dr Daniela Liggett, of New Zealand's University of Canterbury, said both commercial and scientific activities were taking their toll on the Antarctic environment and sometimes these effects, such as the introduction of non-native species, were only noticeable through environmental monitoring over a long period.
But plans to increase the number of research bases in Antarctica called into question whether the spirit of cooperation required by the international Antarctic Treaty was being respected, Liggett told Xinhua in a phone interview on Monday.
Of the 28 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties, only the Netherlands has no research station in Antarctica, she said, while New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced he would travel to Antarctica to view the country's research activities and to highlight cooperation with the United States.
"Antarctica governance is very complex because of the geopolitical arrangement and because Antarctica is an international common it is not owned by anyone and can be accessed and utilized by all of humankind," Liggett said.
Many emerging Antarctic states, from Asia in particular, allocated considerable funding to research and presence in Antarctica, and the establishment of new Antarctic research bases continued to serve as an international "status symbol".
"I wonder whether it's necessary to add so many new bases from a practical and economic perspective, it certainly isn't, but it's a geopolitical statement, even though the Antarctic Treaty stipulates that states should collaborate," said Liggett.
"The question arises as to why they don't co-habit at existing bases and collaborate more."
Twelve nations the U.S., Soviet Union, Britain, Belgium, Japan, Norway, France, South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, Australia and Chile originally signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, at the height of the Cold War, amid fears that the continent could be used for military purposes.
The agreement was mooted by scientists who wanted to preserve Antarctica for peaceful research following successful international scientific cooperation during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958.
Today, the University of Canterbury offers the world's only international, interdisciplinary program of study (the Postgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies) featuring an expedition to Antarctica for field studies, said Liggett, who took part in the annual field trip last month.
Key, who will be in Antarctica from Jan. 17 to 21, is to visit U.S. bases at the South Pole and McMurdo Station.
"New Zealand and the United States have worked closely together in Antarctica for more than 50 years. Enhanced marine protection for the Ross Sea region, deeper research collaboration and improving the efficiency of our Antarctic programs are among our current priorities," Key said in a statement Monday.
Also Monday, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) announced that a 17-strong army light engineering team would carry out construction, deconstruction and repair tasks around the U.S. base at McMurdo Station to ensure facilities and equipment could continue to withstand the harsh winters.
New Zealand forces had been involved in Antarctica for over 50 years, supporting the New Zealand government's research and conservation activities and the U.S. Antarctic program, said a statement from the NZDF.