As the New Year Honours were dished out across the country, one man was recognised for his work on a completely different continent.
Nigel Watson has spent over two decades dedicated to the conservation of Antarctica, he’s now been awarded the prestigious New Zealand Antarctic medal in recognition of his services.
As executive director of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, Watson’s life’s work has been saving the sites of early Antarctic explorers and raising “significant funds” for conservation work.
He’s also created programmes, among which is the Ross Heritage Restoration Project - the world’s largest cold-climate heritage conservation scheme.
The trust’s chairman Mark Stewart said there is immense pride among trust members that Watson’s commitment and achievements have been recognised.
He said Watson, who is currently on an Inspiring Explorers expedition to the South Pole, is driven by a “deep passion” for Antarctica, calling him an incredibly high achiever.
“The contribution he’s made to ensuring Antarctica’s cultural heritage is protected has allowed Aotearoa New Zealand to shine on the world stage,” he said in a statement.
A qualified lawyer, Watson has raised millions of dollars for the conservation of the five historic expedition bases the trust cares for on behalf of the international community.
The bases include Sir Ernest Shackleton’s only Antarctic base, both of Robert Falcon Scott’s huts and Sir Edmund Hillary’s hut – the first building erected as part of New Zealand’s Scott Base.
It also includes the conservation of more than 20,000 items left behind by the polar explorers.
High-profile artifacts, such as the whisky discovered under Shackleton’s hut, have been featured in documentaries and books, engaging a global audience.
Watson’s work has also extended to the creation of the Inspiring Explorers youth programme, which was launched in 2015.
Since its launch, thousands of young people have been given the chance to engage in expeditions to the world’s polar regions through New Zealand-based summits, conferences and even a virtual reality experience of Hillary’s hut.
As well as Antarctica, Watson has personally led five youth expeditions to polar environments such as South Georgia Island and the Greenland ice cap.
“These expeditions connect young people with the legacy the Trust cares for and encourages them to embrace that same spirit of exploration,” said Stewart.