21 June 2005

South Africa celebrates 45 years of research on Antarctica

South Africa is celebrating 45 years of research on Antarctica and this month is also Antarctica Month. The protection of this delicate area is now also firmly entrenched with the signing of the environmental liability regime in Sweden two weeks ago by all countries of the Antarctic Treaty.

A celebratory function by the departments of science and technology and environmental affairs and tourism was also held today on the supply ship, the SA Agulhas in the Cape Town harbour today.

An environmental disaster in Antarctica will be catastrophic and up to now nobody could be held liable for such an event. It took 12 years for the treaty countries put together the liability regime. Now the polluters can be forced to clean up and foot the bill, but countries have five more years to implement the liability regime.

"It is very important for us that we adjust our regulations to our treaty act to compensate for that, so we can force operators to take the necessary insurance for clean-up purposes," says Henry Valentine, the director of Antarctica and Islands at the department of environmental affairs and tourism.

Antarctica Month aims to attract more scholars in the field of science and research, but also expose them to Antarctica's wonders. The department of science and technology has also put together and Antarctic research strategy for South Africa, which aims to create more full-time researchers and more scientific collaborations with other countries at our base in Antarctica.

"Unless we are able to share it, we will find that we are not able to get where we would like to be and in particular it is important to realise you can't do science alone," Mosibudi Mangena, the minister of science and technology, says.

Celebrating the Winter solstice
The South African Antarctic team of nine will tomorrow celebrate the Winter solstice with a lavish dinner as the tradition dictates. In six weeks time the sun will also re-appear after the dark winter months. The team has eight months left of their stint in Antarctica.

"I want to say hello to all the families of the team members, to let them know we are all ding well this side, missing them a lot and hoping to see them soon," said Jonathan Stark, a leader of the SA team in Antarctica, during an SABC telephone link up with the team.

Antarctica must be a special place as those who have gone there before cannot stop talking about their experiences. Kgaugelo Rampedi was the first black women to make the trip and now she actively tries to recruit young people to experience Antarctica. "I wonder why more women haven't done it before because it is an experience of a life time. Six years ago I was on this ship going down. I didn't even know Gough Island existed even then. It shows you how much people don't know about these things," she says.

The SA Agulhas will set sail for Antarctica in December with fresh supplies and the new team, which will spend 13 months in the frozen landscape.

Source: www.sabcnews.com


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