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Why Protect Antarctica?
To some Antarctica is simply a cold, distant uninviting and dangerous place with little to offer the world, so "Why Protect Antarctica" may seem to be a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Even if you don't think it's worth asking, it's worth being able to answer it.
1 - Antarctica is the last and largest unspoiled wilderness area on Earth. It is a reminder of what the planet was like before the influence of man, its unspoiled beauty has inspired victors since it was first glimpsed. It has huge expanses of relatively pristine oceans with an enormous variety and quantity of marine life, much of which is only found in Antarctica and no-where else.
2 - Antarctica belongs to no-one and everyone, there were never any native people's living there and because environmental conditions are so difficult it was never settled in the usual sense and so isn't a part of any one country. It is the last frontier in a number of senses including emotionally and spiritually. We should be able to set one place apart.
3- Antarctica is a continent for science, as it is so unspoiled it acts as a laboratory for the rest of the world where changes can be measured in isolation from the effects of man. It is crucial for instance in helping us to understand the effects of global warming including using ice cores going back hundreds of thousands of years from the up to 4km thick ice cap.
What Conservation Measures are now in place in Antarctica?
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, and 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 taken to 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 soil-dwelling invertebrates.
The establishment 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 rational manner.
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 prohibited
Permits for Travelling to Antarctica
The Environmental Protocol of the Antarctic Treaty 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:
British expeditions travelling to Antarctica.
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.
into 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
In 1991 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" - and so they were.
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