Antarctica and New Zealand Law

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty is implemented in New Zealand law by means of the Antarctica (Environmental Protection) Act 1994.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is responsible for administering the Act and the Minister of Foreign Affairs makes the final determination on whether an activity may proceed.

The Act applies to:

  • Any person in the Ross Dependency (though not to those people or activities that are part of an expedition of another Party to the Environmental Protocol)
  • New Zealand citizens and residents
  • Any person that is part of, or organising an expedition to Antarctica in New Zealand or that departs from New Zealand for Antarctica
  • New Zealand registered ships and aircraft, and any other ships and aircraft that depart for Antarctica from New Zealand

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) must be submitted to MFAT for approval prior to any activity taking place in Antarctica.  It is an offence to carry out an activity in Antarctica without completing this process.

When approving an activity the Minister has discretion under the Act to set conditions and make directions regarding the proposed activities, to protect the environment, and manage compliance, environmental monitoring and post-activity reporting.  Non-compliance is an offence carrying a penalty of up to one year’s imprisonment or a fine of up to $100,000.

The Act prohibits the following unless a permit is obtained:

  • Entering or carrying out any activity in an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA)
  • Taking any native bird or mammal in Antarctica
  • Removing or damaging native plants so their local distribution or abundance is significantly affected
  • Harmfully interfering with native plants, mammals, birds or invertebrates
  • Introducing any species of non-native animal, plant or micro-organism
  • Importing any non-sterile soil into Antarctica
  • Removing any part of or the contents of any historic site or monument

An application for a permit is considered at the same time as an EIA assessment if any of the above activities are identified in the EIA document.  After consideration, the Minister advises the applicant if the activity can proceed or not.  If the activity can proceed, a notification of approval and permits are issued often with conditions attached.

The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is implemented in New Zealand law by means of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Act (1981).

The Act is administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries and places restrictions on activities being undertaken within the CCAMLR Convention Area.  It is an offence under the Act to take any marine organism, whether alive or dead, without first obtaining a permit to do so from the Minister.

Activities planned or conducted by New Zealanders in Antarctica are potentially also subject to one or more other New Zealand Acts:

Environmental Legislation for New Zealanders in Antarctica provides a guide to the implications of each of these Acts for those planning activities in Antarctica. It is intended as a guide only.  For further information consult the relevant Act and/or the contact person shown on the guide.

 `Activities planned or conducted by New Zealanders in Antarctica are potentially governed by seven different pieces of New Zealand environmental legislation. This document provides a brief outline of the implications of each of these pieces of legislation for your activities in Antarctica. It is intended as a guide only and does not substitute the actual legislation and the requirements thereof. While we are here to help, it is your responsibility to ensure that you comply with all applicable environmental regulations. Consult the relevant Act and/or the contact person listed in this guide if you have any doubts or require further information.

We recommend you also visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) website

Under the Animal Welfare Act (1999), no one may carry out research, testing, or teaching involving the use of animals (including mammals, birds, fish and other animals including some invertebrates as defined under the Act) unless they are by contract working under an approved code of ethical conduct. Most research institutions have an animal ethics committee (AEC) with an approved code. AEC approval is required before commencing any work involving animals in Antarctica.

Further information is available from the Ministry for Primary Industries website.

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty is implemented into New Zealand legislation through the Antarctica (Environmental Protection) Act (1994) (the Act). The purpose of the Act is to promote the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment and the value of Antarctica as an area for scientific research. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) administers the Act. Under the Act, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) must be completed and approved by MFAT before any activity can be undertaken in Antarctica. The EIA can take the form of a Preliminary, Initial, or Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation. In addition, the following activities are prohibited without a permit:

  1. Entering or carrying out activities in an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA)
  2. Taking or attempting to take¹ any native bird or mammal
  3. Removing or damaging native plants in quantities which significantly affect local distribution or abundance
  4. Harmfully interfering² with native plants, mammals, birds or invertebrates
  5. Introducing any species of animal, plant or micro-organism not native to that area
  6. Importing non-sterile soil

For further information and enquiries contact:

Kelsie Wilkinson
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Private Bag 18901
Wellington
Phone: +64 4 439 8000
Fax: +64 4 439 8507
Email: Kelsie.Wilkinson@mfat.govt.nz

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¹ “Take” means to kill, injure, capture, handle or molest, a native mammal or bird, or to remove or damage such quantities of native plants that their local distribution or abundance would be significantly affected. (Environmental Protocol Annex II, Article 1)

² “harmfully interfere” means flying or landing helicopters or other aircraft, using vehicles or vessels including hovercraft and small boats, or using explosives or firearms in a manner that disturbs concentrations of birds and seals; wilfully disturbing breeding or moulting birds or concentrations of birds and seals by persons on foot; significantly damaging concentrations of native terrestrial plants by landing aircraft, driving vehicles or walking on them, or by other means; and any activity that results in significant adverse modification of habitats of any species or population of native mammal, bird, plant or invertebrate. (Environmental Protocol Annex II, Article 3)