Summit to delve into Antarctic ecology
Web posted at: 3:08 p.m. EST (2008 GMT)
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (CNN) -- Representatives from around the world plan to start a landmark trip early Monday from New Zealand to Antarctica. Once there, they'll take part in a summit on the ecology of the Earth's least-explored continent.
The two-day conference Tuesday and Wednesday is the first of its kind to be held on the southern continent. More than 20 countries are sending representatives to the meeting at New Zealand's Scott Base.
"I'm very excited," said David Anderson, Canada's minister of fisheries and oceans. "I've traveled to the Canadian arctic, but going south from here is really very exciting for me."
The conference marks the first time since the signing of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty that representatives from most of the treaty's signees will see the frozen continent firsthand.
On the agenda of the "Ministerial on Ice" are several crucial environmental issues. At the top of the list are concerns about overfishing.
At least 70 fishing boats are believed to be illegally taking Patagonian toothfish in the Southern Ocean waters. Despite international efforts to stop them, the poachers haul in more than twice the quota of toothfish set in the 1959 treaty.
Many observers believe this overfishing could throw the region's ecology dangerously out of balance. At the meeting, Australia will push for a system to monitor the amount of fish caught and who's catching them.
"I think that we have to manage to set a kind of ... common force to control and to impose sanctions to people who violate the treaty," said Peruvian Foreign Affairs Minister Fernando de Trazegnies. "This, for me, is very, very important. If we don't have that, the Antarctic, perhaps we are going to lose it."
"We need a greater sense of urgency," said Simon Upton, New Zealand's associate minister of foreign affairs. "Human beings have managed to cause devastation over six continents. It would be good if we could stop that from happening in Antarctica."
The conference also will address the booming tourism industry on the continent. Some 15,000 people visit Antarctica each year -- mostly from cruise ships -- and their impact on the delicate ecosystem is an issue of growing concern.
The Antarctic Treaty, emerging from the Cold War, sought to foster peaceful use of the southern continent and ensure survival of its fragile environment.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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