Defence Minister visits Antarctica

Defence Minister Ron Mark has returned to New Zealand after a visit to Antarctica.

Mr Mark's programme for the four-day visit provided an overview of New Zealand's interests and activities in the region, and Antarctica New Zealand's current work programme and its contribution to Government priorities.

Mr Mark travelled by Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules, and was also able to meet New Zealand Defence Force personnel serving on the ice as part of the NZDF's annual mission in support of ANZ.

"It's been an eye-opening and very valuable experience," Mr Mark said.

"Antarctica New Zealand is doing some fascinating work down there, and the Defence Force is an integral part of that, providing an enormous range of support at three locations during the season - Scott Base, McMurdo Station (the US base) and Harewood Terminal back in Christchurch.

"Our personnel are extremely well trained and prepared for the jobs they do in a very tricky environment, and enjoying working down there. I was very proud of them - they are a class act."

The Ross Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA) agreed within the 25-member Commission for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources in October last year came into force yesterday, 1 December. Mr Mark said that the joint New Zealand-United States initiative is a major contribution to global marine protection.

"The Defence Force will seek to ensure that it is equipped and positioned so as to give effect to the MPA, and meet the Coalition Government's requirements.

"It is a case of being mindful of New Zealand's interests, be they economic, environmental, issues around sovereignty, or issues around security and making sure that we undertake those duties and responsibilities assigned to us in those areas diligently and effectively," he said.