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Antarctica NZ CEO moves to DOC

Tuesday 16 Jul 2013 10:55 a.m.

Antarctica New Zealand CEO Lou Sanson is leaving the organisation after 11 years to take up a role with the Department of Conservation.

Mr Sanson, who used to work for DOC, will take on the new role of deputy director-general of its new conservation partnerships group.

He leaves behind a legacy of global leadership and Antarctic conservation, citing New Zealand's close relationship with the United States as his greatest achievement.

"The area of international diplomacy is probably the one I'm proudest of… mostly the relationship with the United States, which is such a key part of the whole Antarctic scene," he said on Firstline this morning.

He also cite "the fact we've built the world's largest windfarm in Antarctica with Meridian Energy and the work we're doing now with China and Malaysia".

"To have everybody working on the same thing is such a wonderful privilege."

By positioning Christchurch as the world's gateway to the coldest, driest continent on Earth, under his watch Antarctica New Zealand has boosted the local economy by about "$80 to $90 million" a year.

"Christchurch is like an aircraft carrier for the United States – this is the part of the world which makes it most effective for them to operate from," says Mr Sanson.

"New Zealand spends about $25 million in Antarctica; the United States spends about $450 million. We couldn't operate at the scale we do without that relationship and the burden-sharing we do with the United States. And we look at all the other countries and the benefits to Air New Zealand, the port of Lyttelton, Christchurch city, it's worth around about $80 to $90 million to Christchurch economy."

His resignation comes as New Zealand and the US fight for the creation of marine reserves in the Southern Ocean, a challenge "a whole quantum harder" than any previous international ecological agreement.

"The Ross Sea continental shelf is one of the most intact ecosystems on the planet," says Mr Sanson. "There are few places like this left anywhere. I think the pride that we've put into working with the United States and Italy to bring this proposal together – we know it's on our back door, we know it's very close to New Zealand, it would be wonderful to get this agreement.

"But I think it's going to be really, really hard."

He fears that without an agreement, large scale industrial fishing could trigger a rush for resources in Antarctica, which he calls the world's last intact breadbasket.

"I think it sort of sets the scene to open more of Antarctica to natural resource exploitation."

Mr Sanson will be doing both jobs until September, from when he'll be at DOC full time.

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