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Sewage in Antarctica: A Drop in a Frozen Ocean?

The Davis Station wastewater outfall. Photo: J. Stark

The Davis Station wastewater outfall. Photo: J. Stark

By Jonathan Stark

Human activities are impacting Anatarctica’s once-pristine environment, with evidence of antibiotic resistance genes and sewage-related contaminants entering its food chain.

Jonathan Stark is a marine ecologist at the Australian Antarctic Division.

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

Most Antarctic research stations are situated on the coast, including all three of Australia’s stations. The simplest solution to sewage and wastewater disposal in coastal regions around the world is to discharge effluent into the sea. But how is this regarded under the Antarctic Treaty, and what are the potential impacts of this activity? Is it just a drop in a frozen ocean?

Antarctic operations are conducted under the auspices of the Antarctic Treaty, and environmental issues are directed by the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty 1991 (known as the Madrid Protocol). The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 implements the Madrid Protocol into Australian law (see box, below).

Although the Madrid Protocol guides all activities in Antarctica, the actual management of wastewater by the many countries operating in Antarctica varies considerably, from no treatment to advanced sewage treatment methods.

Recently, the impacts of sewage have begun to receive more attention, as have treatment methods required to mitigate these impacts. Many countries have higher domestic sewage treatment standards for small communities than for similarly sized Antarctic research stations.

However, a growing movement is regarding the obligations of the Madrid Protocol as the bare minimum, and several nations are applying the same...

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