Antarctica constitutes a large polar desert, characterized by year round below zero temperatures, scarce precipitations and strong winds. The continent is around 14 million km2, of which less than 2% is ice-free. The ice sheet rises to over 4000 meters above the sea level and represents two thirds of the total freshwater reserves of the planet.
The region comprises approximately one tenth of the Earth’s land surface and plays a significant role in the climate of the Earth. The Southern Ocean – comprising parts of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian – the largest and stormiest of the oceans, surrounds the continent. The Antarctic and Southern Ocean host a unique and fragile ecosystem characterized by unique fauna and flora.
In the late 1960 Antarctic Treaty started receiving enquiries and request about the possibility of exploring and exploiting minerals hydrocarbons in Antarctica. These enquiries for the first time pointed out the so called ‘resources gap’ in the Antarctic Treaty. This promoted ATCPs to informally discuss the subject of resource development and regulation in Antarctica during 1970 consultative meeting in Tokyo. The mineral issue got another impetus after the discoveries of Glomar challenges expedition to the red sea in 1972-73 and also by Arab oil embargo.
Between 1972 to 1981, discussion on Antarctic mineral took place in the regular ATCP sessions. The main principals, set out by ATCPs, should play responsible role in dealing with questions of Antarctic mineral resources, and while doing this, Antarctic environment and its dependent eco system should be protected, and the interest of all mankind should not be prejudiced.
However, the Antarctic Treaty did not free Antarctica from imminent exploitation of mineral resources. At the beginning of the 1980s the Treaty began to negotiate the Convention for Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resources, which was meant to regulate the exploitation of mineral resources without destabilizing the fragile balance that the Treaty provided to the relation between countries confronted by territorial claims and the Cold War. The Convention signaled the end to the concept of Antarctica as a place destined to scientific research and as a potential reserve of natural resources.
Arguments in favour of an Antarctic Mineral Regime have been strongly criticized by some environmental organizations whose lobbies were particularly active during the negotiations. They maintain that a mineral regime is neither necessary nor desirable simply because no mineral activities should ever take place in Antarctica. On this assumption, they forcefully argue for the designation of the continent as a ‘World Park’, a solution that would better guarantee the preservation of the Antarctic environment.
Consequently during the 1980s an intensive campaign effort took place to prevent exploitation of Antarctic natural resources and to promote the designation of the continent as a World Park, based on the following concepts:
- The recognition of Antarctica as the last wilderness continent;
- The protection of the Antarctic fauna and flora (both in the continent itself and in the Southern Ocean) based on the precautionary principle;
- The use of the continent for scientific research and international cooperation; and
- The maintenance of Antarctica as a zone of peace, free of nuclear and military activities.
The Madrid Protocol is positive but not enough
In 1991 the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties signed The Protocol of Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. This is a unique instrument that protects an entire continent, without establishing political or administrative boundaries. It establishes comprehensive measures of environmental protection, including the prohibition of mineral activities for at least fifty years. The Protocol has five annexes that detail obligations relating to: mandatory environmental impact assessments that must proceed all activities; strict regulations for the conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora; waste management; prevention of marine pollution; and the possibility of establishing protected areas with an additional protection regime.
Beginning to implement of the Protocol has not been an easy process and, more than ten years after its signature, implementation is still far from being complete and adequate. One of the main limitations of the Antarctic conservation regime is that the Protocol does not apply to the exploitation of marine resources. This gives place to a grossly incongruous situation: strict environmental protection on the continent, in contrast to the exploitation of marine resources that is regulated using considerably less strict controls. This ignores the fact that both the continent and the surrounding ocean belong to the same ecosystem, as is recognized by the Protocol itself in its Art. 3.
The marina fauna of the Southern Ocean has been intensely exploited for over a century, particularly krill (Euphasia superba) and several species of seals and whales. Sealing and whaling were followed by the exploitation of deep-sea fish such as Patagonian tooth fish (Dissostichus eleginoides and D. mawsonii). In addition to the legal exploitation of marine living resources in the Southern Ocean, which we consider excessive, there is the impact of illegal fishing, currently focused on Patagonian tooth fish, which threatens with the collapse not only of this species but also with different species of seabird that are accidentally captured as “by catch”.
The latest threat to Antarctica is a growing pressure from tourism, which puts at risk the fragile equilibrium of both the Antarctic ecosystems and the political regime of governance of the Antarctic region. Tourism is not only an environmental but also a political issue.
Form the above discussion it can be said that if Antarctica is protected as World Park, then it will be protected by laws. People should only be able to visit certain points and still be restricted to what they can do and bring.
Antarctica is a peaceful and desolate place that needs to be left alone. It may have natural resources, beautiful scenery and wonderful animals and plants. We should not let everyone go for pleasure as there are too many dangerous resources and if people get hold of these it can cause serious wars and world damage. So PLASE LEAVE IT ALONE AND CONSERVE IT AS A WORLD PARK.