Origins ANTARCTICA, Scientific Journeys from McMurdo to the Pole
Ideas Tools Place Live Field Notes

The Real No Man's Land
It's not just science that's an experiment in Antarctica
page 3

flags at the south pole
  The sign marking the South Pole is surrounded by flags of many nations. © NSF

As the number of Treaty members increased in the 1970s and ‘80s, so did concern about keeping Antarctica clean. In 1998 the Protocol 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 penguin tours.

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.

Links to more information:

Text of The Antarctic Treaty

A map of research stations and territorial claims

Text of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty
(the Madrid Protocol)

Introduction to the Madrid Protocol

The 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 continent.

Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (CONMAP)
Links to information about all national Antarctic programs and research stations

The Committee for Environmental Protection
Established in accordance with the Madrid Protocol to assist Treaty nations with carrying out environmental regulations.

The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition
An coalition of 230 organizations from 49 countries working to protect Antarctica's environment.


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