Conservation in Antarctica - Protecting the Environment
Until the 1960s, some species
of whales and seals were taken to the brink of extinction by human
activities in Antarctica. Waste and garbage was left where it fell, burnt in
great open fires or was deposited in the ocean. Fisheries were non-existent
or on a very small scale, but either way were completely unregulated.
Over the years since the
Antarctic Treaty came into force, ever
greater environmental awareness has led to increasing regulation by the
Antarctic Treaty System. All plants and animals in Antarctica are now
protected and there are measures in place to prevent pollution of this - the
worlds most pristine environment.
There are many resolutions and measures for
the protection of Antarctica and its fauna (animals) and flora (plants). In
brief they state that:
No Antarctic bird
or mammal can be killed or captured without a permit - granted only
for scientific reasons
Measures must be
minimize harmful interference with wildlife and control the
introduction of non-native species - animal or plant, even to the
point of not taking soil or growing compost to Antarctica as it may
contain plant seeds, fungal spores and adults or eggs of any number of
of specially protected areas to protect sites of outstanding
scientific interest and designate specially protected species.
Seals in particular are covered by a 1972 convention designed to prevent
the resumption of sealing
killing of both Ross and Antarctic fur seals is totally
prohibited and catch limits are set deliberately at low levels. All six
seal species that breed in the Antarctic are covered.
Commercial fisheries in the Southern Ocean are controlled by the
CCAMLR - Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living
Resources. The aim of the Convention is to conserve marine life of the
Southern Ocean - this does not exclude harvesting carried out in a
The discharge into
the sea within the Antarctic Treaty Area of all toxic and noxious
chemicals, oil and oily wastes, plastics and other forms of
non-biodegradable rubbish, is prohibited. The discharge of other
wastes (such as sewage from ships and bases) is strictly regulated.
Mining has been
Permits for Travelling to Antarctica
The Environmental Protocol of the
became law in 1998 after legislation in each of the member countries. One of
the ways in which this protects Antarctica is by only allowing visitors to
Antarctica by member nations as long as they are given a permit to do so.
The granting of a permit is dependent on the visitors agreeing to adhere to
certain rules and guidelines. Each nations rules are not the same in the
detail, though they are similar in the general principles.
In Britain for example, the
following activities require a permit from the Secretary of State for
Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs:
Waste from Antarctic
British expeditions travelling to
British stations in Antarctica.
British registered vessels and
aircraft going to Antarctica.
Mineral resource activities for
scientific research or for certain construction purposes.
The taking of, or harmful
interference with, fauna or flora.
The introduction of non-native
animals or plants.
areas protected under the Protocol ( Antarctic Specially Protected Areas
- ASPA) or under the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine
Living Resources (CCAMLR) (CEMP Monitoring Sites)
Examples of how these regulations
are put into practice
Waste from Ships
- The discharge
of any oil or oily mixture, bulk chemicals or garbage from a ship is
prohibited in Antarctica and must be discharged at port
reception facilities outside the region. Many ships operating in
Antarctic waters retain oil and oily mixtures on board the ship.
Oily water separators are often fitted and the discharge of oil from
ships is monitored by maintaining an Oil Record Book, as required by
the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
from ships is usually passed through a biological treatment plant
that meets the requirements of the IMO before discharge. If these
systems break down in the Antarctic, ships will avoid discharging
untreated raw sewage within 12 nautical miles of shore.
- Food waste
is passed through a waste disposal unit that shreds the waste so
that it will pass through a mesh size of less than 25 mm, discharge
is then at least 12 nautical miles from shore. If ships are within
12 nautical miles of shore, the waste is held in holding tanks until
it can be discharged. Large bones and other food wastes which are
difficult to shred are frozen and disposed of at port reception
facilities outside Antarctica.
- Other waste
generated on ships is stored on board until it can be disposed
of outside Antarctica. Shredders are used to process glass and small
metal waste. Compactors are used to bale plastic. Paper and
cardboard are burnt in high temperature marine incinerators. Waste
food wrappings are frozen for later disposal in port.
- The dumping of
waste or chemicals on land or at sea, or open burning of rubbish are
all prohibited. Instead, wastes are separated at source, processed
using a range of compacting and shredding equipment to reduce
volume, and then removed.
- Waste from Antarctic bases is
packaged up and shipped out of
Antarctica for disposal by licensed waste contractors. Dumping at
sea or burning in Antarctica are now not permitted.
- Certain bases
as permitted under the Environmental
Protocol, discharge sewage and food waste into the sea. At other
bases they are discharged into ice pits. These wastes are not
removed from Antarctica because of the health risks involved in
shipping large quantities over long distances. The extent and the
environmental effects of the release of sewage and food waste into
the near shore marine environment is monitored on an ongoing basis.
Such effluent has been shown to have only minor and local impact.
Despite this an increasing number of bases are installing biological
sewage treatment plants.
- Many national
programmes carry out an annual audit of the quantities of waste
generated at research stations, field camps and ships.
the fear that distemper from dogs could spread to seals led to a new
clause in the Antarctic Treaty.
"Dogs shall not be introduced onto land or ice shelves and dogs
currently in those areas shall be removed by April 1 1994"