New Zealand’s close association with Antarctica began more than 100 years ago when explorers and scientists left New Zealand ports to discover this vast icy continent and make their way to the Pole.

Sir Edmund Hillary at Scott Base marking 50 years of cooperation with the United States
Sir Edmund Hillary at Scott Base marking 50 years of cooperation with the United States

In 1957, Scott Base was established by Sir Edmund Hillary to support the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition and this became a permanent station for scientific research. 

The Antarctic is fragile and unique. It makes up nearly 10% of the earth’s landmass and 98% of it is covered by ice. Many marine mammals and seabirds migrate between the rich feeding grounds that surround Antarctica and New Zealand. While the region remains largely unchanged by human intervention, the small number of visitors to Antarctica continues to increase, and there's international interest in ensuring that activities in the region are planned, safe and environmentally responsible.

Governance of a natural reserve

Several countries (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the UK) claim parts of the Antarctic as their own. Since 1923 New Zealand has maintained a right of sovereignty over the Ross Dependency, which was originally part of the UK’s claims in the Antarctic.  The Ross Dependency includes the Ross Ice Shelf, the Balleny Islands, Scott Island and other adjacent islands. 

Activities in Antarctica are governed by the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. This unique agreement among the claimant states and other countries commits them to using Antarctica for peaceful purposes only, sets aside the potential for disputes over territorial claims, and focuses on scientific research and sharing findings with the rest of the world.

Map of the Ross Sea region (external link)

Sourced from Topographic Map 135 - Ross Sea. Crown Copyright Reserved.

New Zealand is also party to other agreements, which along with the Antarctic Treaty make up the Antarctic Treaty System. One of these agreements is the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, which designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science, prohibits mineral resource activities, and requires assessment of the environmental impacts of any human activities there.

New Zealand is also a member of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which protects the Antarctic marine ecosystem while managing sustainable harvesting.  

Find out more about:

The Antarctic Treaty
The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty

New Zealand's strategic interests

The 2002 Revised New Zealand Statement of Strategic Interest confirms New Zealand's commitment to conserving the intrinsic and wilderness values of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, for the benefit of every country, and for present and future generations of New Zealanders.

It says that this commitment will be reflected in the way in which New Zealand engages, through the Antarctic Treaty System, to promote New Zealand’s interests.

These interests include:

  • Peace and security - committing to keeping Antarctica peaceful and nuclear-free, its environment protected, and ensuring activities there are consistent with Antarctica's status as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science.
  • Governance - continuing New Zealand's influence in Antarctica by maintaining an effective role in the Antarctic Treaty System, and continuing our long-term commitment to the Ross Dependency and having a credible presence there.
  • Biodiversity protection -  conserving, protecting and understanding the biodiversity of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, particularly the Ross Sea region. This includes promoting, protecting and managing representative special areas and enhancing biosecurity.
  • Conservation - managing marine living resources of the Southern Ocean, and in particular the Ross Sea, in a sustainable way; working with CCAMLR and the Antarctica Environmental Protocol to support strong environmental standards and sustainable economic benefits.
  • Scientific research - supporting, and where appropriate leading, high quality scientific research in the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean.
  • Environmental stewardship - demonstrating and advocating for best practice in environmental stewardship and all other activities throughout Antarctica, particularly in the Ross Sea region.

Our role within the region

We are the government agency responsible for New Zealand's overall interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Our main roles include:

  • pursuing New Zealand’s interests in the Antarctic Treaty System
  • coordinating policy advice on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, including the Ross Dependency.
  • conducting New Zealand's relations with other countries in respect of Antarctica
  • coordinating New Zealand's maritime surveillance activities in the Southern Ocean.

We work closely with a range of government agencies and Antarctica NZ, the Crown Entity that manages Scott Base and is responsible for activities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, such as scientific research, conservation and public awareness.