A high-profile Antarctic study suddenly cancelled by the University of Canterbury may be restarted following revelations aired on 1 NEWS last night.
Government agency Antarctica New Zealand, which support scientists on the ice, has confirmed it's now able to reconsider the cancelled Antarctic expedition, after scientist Regina Eisert parted ways with the university.
It comes after 1 NEWS revealed the university had suddenly backed out of an ongoing monitoring programme studying killer whales in the Ross Sea and refused to support its own scientist returning to the ice.
A team of five, including a young master’s degree student who won a scholarship, had spent months planning the field trip, which was due to begin next month.
It had support from Antarctica New Zealand but was unable to progress after the university refused to sign off at the last minute.
The university initially described the situation as an “individual employment matter” but took a step further following repeated questioning from 1 NEWS, announcing it had resolved a “complex employment matter” and was formally parting ways with Ms Eisert.
The scientist is yet to comment but the move essentially frees her up to pursue the trip independently for the first time and Antarctica New Zealand has confirmed that process is now underway, albeit at a very late stage in the season.
Their general manager of operations, Simon Trotter, says the agency had been made aware Ms Eisert was no longer employed by the university.
“From Monday, we understand Dr Eisert will be an independent operator without the support of a home institution,” he says.
“With the summer Antarctic research season already underway, Antarctica New Zealand will consider the feasibility and supportability of Dr Eisert’s proposed activities as an independent operator.”
The study has been described as a “project of world significance” by the former head of Antarctic policy at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and praised as one of the only of its kind by a leading British scientist.
It studies a new marine protected area established in the Ross Sea in 2017, following a long-running diplomatic campaign by New Zealand, which prevents illegal toothfish fishing.
Killer whales are a toothfish predator and one of the key focal species which can show whether the protected area status is working.
There is currently no timeline on when a final decision will be made but it will have to happen quickly either way as the trip was due to begin in just a few weeks.