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MEDIA STATEMENT

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic

ANTARCTIC VOYAGE TO FOCUS ON OCEAN ECOSYSTEMS, HUMAN RUBBISH


3 April 1998

The Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic, Senator Ian Macdonald, announced the departure from Hobart today of Australia's Antarctic icebreaker Aurora Australis on its final summer voyage.

"In addition to undertaking detailed studies of animal life in the top layer of the Southern Ocean, a major focus of the five-week voyage will be a survey of human-produced debris floating on the ocean surface", Senator Macdonald said.

"This study will help to establish bench-mark levels for marine debris in the cleanest ocean of the world", Senator Macdonald said. "Through regular collections, we hope to better understand the nature, quantity and origin of the rubbish present in the region as a guide to future action. This program demonstrates Australia's commitment to protecting the fragile Antarctic environment, and to understanding and miniminsing human impacts in the region in keeping with our Madrid Protocol obligations."

The "rubbish" survey aims to collect and catalogue plastic and other litter afloat in the waters of the Southern Ocean and washed ashore on Macquarie Island. The debris is known to include rubbish from ships, and lines, buoys and nets lost from fishing boats.

Senator Macdonald said that a five year survey of beach litter at Macquarie Island has identified a large range of rubbish items, mainly plastic, which have been washed ashore. Small plastic fragments have also been found in faeces of fur seals, albatrosses and other seabirds, probably originally eaten by "surface feeding" fish. In this way plastic can be spread throughout the food webs and may even be "concentrated" at certain stages with unknown but probably significant effects.

The voyage will also conduct a series of controlled trawls and echo sounding in the top 100 metres of waters between Australia and Antarctica seeking information on the abundance and composition of little-known animal communities which have a central role in the food chain of the world's oceans, converting small plankton into larger animals which are in turn eaten by larger animals such as whales, seals, seabirds, squid and fish.

Another research program will involve deployment of oceanographic instruments near the edge of Antarctica's continental shelf to measure currents, salinity and temperature to improve understanding of Antarctic bottom water, a crucial factor in world ocean circulation.

After completing the marine science programs, the ship will make a final visit to Casey Station and to sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island to retrieve scientists and support staff who have completed their summer programs.

Information and contacts: Mr Dick Williams, Voyage Leader, will be available to answer media inquiries at Aurora Australis (contact Bridget Payne to arrange) Further information: James Shevlin, (Senator Macdonalds Office) 02 6277 3665 or 0417 717935 or Bridget Payne, Antarctic Division Information & Education Officer, tel. (03) 6232 3512.

Commonwealth of Australia