The Antarctic is a region of vast untracked wilderness, fascinating natural features, and incomparable scenic beauty. However, despite its remoteness and limited exposure to the modern world, it is still not immune to human impacts.

Even in Antarctica, environmental folly has played its part. Modern technology has brought with it: waste, tourism, overfishing, habitat destruction, and the potential for resource exploitation. What’s more, global environmental concerns such as: global warming, ozone destruction, air and water pollution, and nuclear fallout all affect the southern continent to one degree or another.

Since the time of the early explorers, the wealth of Antarctica’s resources, especially its marine resources, have not escaped the notice of extractive industries. Fur seals were slaughtered by the tens of thousands during the 1820’s driving populations to the brink of extinction. Then came the whalers, who for a period of about twenty years in the early 1900’s, processed more than 40,000 whales per year reducing populations to a fraction of their former abundance. Next, in the 1970’s, came the exploitation of fish. Years of overzealous harvesting of cod species resulted in the closure of most fisheries until sustainable recovery–still a long way off–can occur.

There is little doubt that a great deal of Antarctic science and research has global significance Most humans in Antarctica are involved in some type of scientific undertaking, either research or related to logistical operations. In the past, some scientific bases have been criticized for their lack of environmental awareness. However, during the last decade, attitudes have changed dramatically. Scientists recognize the value of a clean Antarctica and are taking steps to avoid contaminating it.

Today, the Antarctic Treaty and its accompanying amendments, do an admirable job of protecting the continent’s environmental riches. The 1991 “Protocol on Environmental Protection” requires that comprehensive assessment and monitoring tools are used to minimize human impacts on fragile ecosystems.

Mineral Exploitation

  • Iron ore, coal,and other minerals have been found in the Antarctic, but their quantities are unknown.
  • The highly uneconomical nature of mining there, effectively prevents exploitation.
  • Although it is theorized that oil and natural gas exist beneath the continental shelf, no commercial-size deposits have ever been found.

Did You Know?

  • Even in Antarctica, pollutants can be found in snow and ice cores.
  • Nuclear fallout shows up clearly in the ice cores, and is linked to datable events.
  • There is, however, no evidence of sulfur dioxide, which, as ‘acid rain,’ has caused so much damage in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The continent provides scientists with a global baseline against which we can measure the damage inflicted on the rest of the planet.

Amendments to the Antarctic Treaty

  • Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora (1964) – protects native animals and birds and sets aside Specially Protected Areas.
  • Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (1978) – provides a means to regulate commercial sealing activities.
  • Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (1980) – ensures that the Southern Ocean’s living resources are treated as a single ecosystem.
  • to study the unique characteristics of Antarctica and its surrounding seas.
  • Protocol on Enviromental Protection (1991) – establishes environmental principles for the conduct of all activities in Antarctica.

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