Antarctica: ‘unique’ cooperation yields results, but challenges persist – UN report

12 September 2005

While Antarctica continues to serve as a unique example of environmental cooperation among nations, a number of concerns – including the depletion of the ozone layer, the growth of tourism and the emergence of biological prospecting – call for a timely response by the world community, according to a report released at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

While Antarctica continues to serve as a unique example of environmental cooperation among nations, a number of concerns – including the depletion of the ozone layer, the growth of tourism and the emergence of biological prospecting – call for a timely response by the world community, according to a report released at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

“Designated as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science, Antarctica is the scene of successful international cooperation in research, in particular in connection with the study of global changes,” says the report from Secretary-General Kofi Annan prepared for the current UN General Assembly session. The wide-ranging document highlights recent activities under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty – a landmark accord that, in part, banned nuclear explosions over Antarctica and provided for freedom of scientific investigation in the interest of all mankind.

Among positive developments, the report points to the opening or upgrading of nine stations to monitor the state of the region. It also notes the importance of such bodies as the Committee for Environmental Protection as a “dynamic forum” for addressing environmental issues related to human activity and the newly established Treaty Secretariat, which will become “a central repository of Antarctic information.”

At the same time, the report flags a number of challenges and issues of concern that require speedy response. It notes, for example, that illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing for toothfish in the Southern Ocean still exceeds reported catches despite major efforts to address such activities. During 2003-4, “illegal, unregulated and unreported” toothfish fishing was estimated at 15,992 tons, up from 13,804 in 2000-1.

“Further enforcement and cooperation are still required from all States involved to bring such activities to a halt,” the report says.

Another area of concern is “tremendous” growth of the tourism industry in the area. According to the report, over the past decade the number of ship-borne tourists to the Antarctic Peninsula grew by more than 300 per cent. The 2004/2005 season recorded the highest number of ship-borne tourists totalling 27,324. The report underscores that an increase in high-risk, “adventure tourism” has been cause for concern partly because of the activity level and partly because of the increase in need for new search and rescue missions.

Global warming has also become a “major threat” to the Antartica, the report says, noting in particular climate change and the depletion of the ozone layer. The report observes that several glaciers including Brown Glacier on Heard Island, and Collins Glacier on King George Island have retreated by several metres over three years, providing indications of continued glacial melting. A ripple effect has impacted animals in the area, with reductions in the breeding of three seabird species correlated with increases in sea temperature and the loss of penguin nests correlating to a decline in krill due to retreating pack ice, the report says.

In conclusion, the report urges continued efforts to ensure that commercial activities will not impact on the successes of the Antarctic Treaty system, “in particular in securing Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.”

 

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