Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Call to Better Protect Antarctic Biodiversity

By Justine Shaw

As “the last wilderness on Earth” Antarctica requires a better system of protected areas.

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Most of Antarctica is covered in ice, with less than 1% permanently ice-free. This ice-free land is where the majority of bio­diversity occurs, and is also where most human activity is concentrated, yet only 1.5% of these areas belong to Antarctic Specially Protected Areas under the Antarctic Treaty System.

Threats to the ecological integrity of Antarctica are accelerating because of a growing variety, intensity and frequency of human activities and a rapidly changing climate. Biological invasions are most significant, with several established populations already impacting native species in Antarctica.

Human activities in Antarctica typically take two forms: the activities of National Antarctic Programs (i.e. scientists and their support personnel) and those that take place as part of fee-paying recreation (i.e. tourists and their support personnel). Antarctica has more than 40,000 visitors per year, with more research facilities being built in the continent’s tiny ice-free area. Activities associated with science include construction of buildings, roads and fuel depots.

Growing instances of unintentional damage are also being recorded, such as the establishment of harmful non-indigenous species, sewage spills and destruction of vegetation. Human activities, be they tourism or science-related, have increased considerably over the past 20 years and...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.