Antarctic Environmental Protection

As the world’s last great unspoiled wilderness, Antarctica is the natural heritage of all humankind. We seek to ensure that Antarctic marine and terrestrial environments receive the highest protection possible so that Antarctica will continue to be pristine. Major areas of focus include:

Negotiation of a legally-binding Polar Code to strengthen Southern Ocean Vessel Safety

Regulating Antarctic tourism

Monitoring developments in Antarctic biological prospecting

Promoting full implementation of the Environment Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty, including liability for environmental damage.

Monitoring efforts to explore sub-glacial lakes such as Lake Vostok.

Preserving Antarctic seamounts.

NASA satellite composite image

Although Antarctica may be relatively untouched, it is not necessarily free from environmental harm. More and more scientists and tourists visit the region every year, and there are key gaps in the regulations that govern activities on the continent and in its surrounding waters. ASOC believes that all activities in the Antarctic should be conducted according to the strictest possible environmental standards and uses our observer status in the Antarctic Treaty System and at other governmental organizations to advocate for the implementation of tougher rules.

We also monitor activities to ensure that they are carried out in a way that preserves and protects the Antarctic environment. The Russian plan to drill into the subglacial Lake Vostok is a good example. Scientists are understandably intrigued by subglacial lakes and any life forms that may be able to survive in them. Nevertheless, these environments are vulnerable to contamination and disturbance, having been locked away under ice for thousands of years. Thus we have been urging Russia to abide by international scientific guidelines for the exploration of subglacial lakes. More generally, ASOC presents a strong voice for enhancing current rules and regulations for Antarctica, enacting new rules when appropriate and developing ways to enforce current and future rules.

A single footprint in Antarctica can last for decades. The fragility of this magnificent place means that visitors must take extreme care or else the region’s uniqueness will be lost forever.