not just science that's an experiment in Antarctica
sign marking the South Pole is surrounded by flags of
many nations. ©
the number of Treaty members increased in the 1970s and 80s,
so did concern about keeping Antarctica clean. In 1998 the
on Environmental Protection came into effect. Since then,
stations like McMurdo have practiced much more careful waste
disposal and recycling practices.
Still, the Madrid Protocol affects only Treaty signatories.
Nations who have not signed, but who have agreed to abide
by the Treaty, may not be subject to Madrid's environmental
restrictions. (For information on which parties are which,
see information box on previous page.)
Watching out for the environment has become an even greater
challenge as more and more visitors -- including tourists
-- discover the charms of the frozen continent. While many
people might not think of Antarctica as a place to spend their
honeymoon, there's an increasing number of people who do,
and they are signing up in droves for mountain climbs and
Last year, more than 10,000 tourists visited Antarctica, bringing
soiled boots, climbing gear, and trash to many locations.
The number of paying visitors is only expected to grow, with
some tour companies even trying to build dormitories (currently,
tourists are not allowed to stay on the continent, and usually
sleep in ships offshore).
Tour operators are working with Treaty members to devise regulations,
and there are plans to assess the environmental impacts of
tours. But these steps -- and the enforcement of any subsequent
laws -- may prove difficult to settle on and enforce in a
place where jurisdiction and land ownership are unclear.
There can be little doubt that scientists, visitors, and governments
all want to keep Antarctica as pristine as possible, while
still continuing research and exploration there. Issues like
these are struggle enough for countries with clearly defined
leaders and responsible parties. They will surely be a test
for Antarctica's unique government, and the next few years
may tell us whether science or politics will define the future
of the continent.
to more information:
of The Antarctic Treaty
map of research stations and territorial claims
of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic
(the Madrid Protocol)
to the Madrid Protocol
U.S. Antarctic Treaty Information Exchange
A public record of US involvement and plans on the continent,
required for each Treaty signatory.
Scientific Committee on
Antarctic Research (SCAR)
A non-governmental body that coordinates research across the
Council of Managers of
National Antarctic Programs (CONMAP)
Links to information about all national Antarctic programs
and research stations
for Environmental Protection
Established in accordance with the Madrid Protocol to assist
Treaty nations with carrying out environmental regulations.
The Antarctic and Southern
An coalition of 230 organizations from 49 countries working
to protect Antarctica's environment.