Monday, 7 November 2016

Your questions: Who's in charge?

Is Antarctica a country?

That's a good question! After all, what makes a country? 

You might want to think about what sort of things your own country has: a flag, a national anthem, its own currency, Parliament buildings... what else defines a country?

In fact, Antarctica has none of those things I just mentioned (although there is an Antarctic Treaty flag - more about the Treaty later.) It makes up a whole continent, but not a country. Scott Base runs on New Zealand time, and you can use New Zealand money. As a New Zealander, you don't even need your passport to visit there - you can just take a driver's licence. 

Nobody owns Antarctica. A number of different countries have laid claim to various parts of it, starting with the British in the 1800s. Explorers would land, plant flags, and claim that bit of the continent for the country they came from. 

But in 1959, the Antarctica Treaty was signed by 12 countries, including New Zealand. The Treaty said that "Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord." Instead it was to be used for scientific purposes. 

The Treaty said that nobody owned the land - but also that none of the countries had to give up the claims they had already made, which is why New Zealand scientists continue to work from Scott Base. If you want to read more about this, have a look here

Antarctic Treaty Flag flying at Scott Base. Photo by Alison Welch
©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection [1984-1985]

Under the Antarctic Treaty, Antarctica is a region officially set aside for peace and science. If you haven't heard about NZ photographer Stuart Robertson's "Peace in 10,000 Hands" project, you can read more here

Stuart Robertson's Antarctica, Peace in 10,000 Hands, August 2016.
CC licence

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