Antarctica is the world’s last great wilderness and provides a pristine area for research into the Antarctic and the global environment. The challenge is to manage human activities in Antarctica in a way that balances the benefits of access with the need for environmental protection. A range of Antarctic resources are potentially of use to people including:
General requirements for any type of human activity in Antarctica, such as prior environmental impact assessment and avoiding harmful disturbance to wildlife are set out in the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. This international agreement also bans mining in Antarctica indefinitely. Southern Ocean resources are managed through the Convention for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
Fishing does take place in Antarctica. It is regulated through the Convention on the Conservation of Marine Living Resources, signed in 1981. This agreement puts in place an international permitting system for fisheries based on a 'precautionary' and 'ecosystem based' approach. Catch limits are set based on information about both catch species stocks and possible impacts on non-target species.
The Convention covers all types of marine organisms except for whales and seals. Whaling is managed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling signed in 1946. Antarctic sealing, should it recommence, could be managed under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals of 1972, which 16 of the Antarctic Treaty Parties have ratified. New Zealand has not ratified the agreement due to opposition to commercial sealing.
Bioprospecting usually involves the collection of only small quantities of materials and organisms for research purposes, and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty contains measures to address the environmental impacts of any activities in Antarctica. However, the Antarctic Treaty Parties are concerned about other issues surrounding bioprospecting, such as:
The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) was established in 1991 to promote safety and environmental responsibility amongst cruise operators. IAATO drafted the documents which formed the basis of “Guidance for Visitors to the Antarctic”, Antarctic Treaty Recommendation XVIII-I.
Tourism is specifically noted in the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty as one of the activities it covers. The Protocol includes environmental principles as well as practical requirements on matters such as environmental impact assessment, conservation of flora and fauna, waste management and prevention of marine pollution.
Management of tourism activities remains an important issue in the Antarctic Treaty forum and the Treaty Parties held a special Meeting of Experts in Norway, in March 2004, to discuss topics including safety and environmental protection.
Tourism Information Sheet (pdf, 164kb)