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Protection of Antarctic soil environments: A review of the current issues and future challenges for the Environmental Protocol

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Abstract

2016 marked the 25th anniversary of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. Terrestrial ice-free areas constitute approximately 0.18% of Antarctica, but represent the most biologically active, historically rich, and environmentally sensitive sites. Antarctic soils are easily disturbed and environmental legacies of human activities are scattered across the continent; many are remnants of the 1950s-1980s when environmental protection was less comprehensive than today. Adoption of the Environmental Protocol in 1991 represented an important and proactive shift in Antarctic governance, securing environmental protection as a fundamental tenet of the Treaty System. Twenty five years on standards of environmental management have greatly improved, yet environmental pressures are compounding. Shortcomings in the implementation of the Environmental Protocol exist due to disparities in cultural values, operational realities, and inconsistent environmental impact assessments among governments and National Antarctic Programs. Non-native species management remains underdeveloped; and there is inadequate representation of all biogeographic regions within the Protected Area system; therefore jeopardizing conservation of Antarctic biodiversity and the integrity of the soil environment. Fundamental improvements are required to address the current shortcomings and ensure effective environmental protection for the next 25 years, including: (1) increased multinational and multidisciplinary collaboration to answer targeted research questions addressing contemporary management challenges, (2) effective communication of science to policy makers and environmental managers to inform decision- making, and (3) making the mandate of long-term monitoring of the terrestrial environment a high priority for all governments signatory to the Antarctic Treaty.

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The largest of the three scientific bases operated by the United States Antarctic Program (USAP), McMurdo Station has experienced numerous localised environmental impacts over its fifty-plus years of occupation. Since 1999 a long-term environmental monitoring programme has examined human impacts in the terrestrial and marine environments in proximity to the station. The programme was developed from an assessment of system attributes amenable to monitoring, an understanding of the nature of historical and ongoing environmental impacts and a consideration of the spatial scales over which impacts would be expected. While station operations continue to impact the local environment, the ‘footprint’ of human disturbance observed at McMurdo Station today primarily represents vestiges of historical practices. In the terrestrial environment, the impact of human activities is typically confined to within a few hundred meters of the station and contamination by petroleum hydrocarbons and metals are found where expected. This ongoing monitoring programme represents an important step in understanding how a legacy of human activities can affect the local environment surrounding an Antarctic scientific base. The developed framework is suitable for adaptation to other Antarctic research stations with similar physical settings and mix of human activities. The programme has provided, and will continue to provide, crucial baseline environmental information which can serve as the scientific basis for future assessments of the impact of human activities at McMurdo Station over the next 50 years.
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Vegetation is sparsely distributed over Antarctica's ice-free ground, and distinct plant communities are present in each of the continent's 15 recently identified Antarctic Conservation Biogeographic Regions (ACBRs). With rapidly increasing human activity in Antarctica, terrestrial plant communities are at risk of damage or destruction by trampling, overland transport and infrastructure construction, and the impacts of anthropogenically introduced species, as well as uncontrollable pressures such as fur seal activity and climate change. Under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, the conservation of plant communities can be enacted and facilitated through the designation of Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs). In this study we examined the distribution within the 15 ACBRs of the 33 ASPAs whose explicit purpose includes protecting macroscopic terrestrial flora. Large omissions in the protection of Antarctic botanical diversity were found, with no protection of plant communities in six ACBRs and, in a further six, less than 0.4% of the ACBR area was included within an ASPA protecting vegetation. We completed the first normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) satellite remote sensing survey to provide baseline data on the extent of vegetation cover in all ASPAs designated for plant protection in Antarctica. Protected vegetation cover within the 33 ASPAs totalled 16.1 km2 for the entire Antarctic continent, with over half of this within a single protected area. Over 96% of the protected vegetation was contained within two ACBRs, which together contribute only 7.8% of the continent's ice-free ground. We conclude that Antarctic botanical diversity is clearly inadequately protected, and call for systematic designation of ASPAs protecting plant communities across by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties, the members of the governing body of the continent. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
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Until recently the Antarctic continent and Peninsula have been little impacted by non-native species, compared to other regions of the Earth. However, reports of species introductions are increasing as awareness of biological invasions as a major conservation threat, within the context of increased human activities and climate change scenarios, has grown within the Antarctic community. Given the recent increase in documented reports, here we provide an up-to-date inventory of known terrestrial non-native species introductions, including those subsequently removed since the 1990s, within the Antarctic Treaty area. This builds on earlier syntheses of records published in the mid-2000s, which focused largely on the sub-Antarctic islands, given the dearth of literature available at that time from the continental and maritime Antarctic regions. Reports of non-native species established in the natural environment (i.e. non-synanthropic) are mainly located within the Antarctic Peninsula region and Scotia Arc, with Deception Island, South Shetland Islands, the most impacted area. Non-native plants have generally been removed from sites of introduction, but no established invertebrates have yet been subject to any eradication attempt, despite a recent increase in reports. Legislation within the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty has not kept pace with environmental best practice, potentially presenting difficulties for the practical aspects of non-native species control and eradication. The success of any eradication attempt may be affected by management practices and the biology of the target species under polar conditions. Practical management action is only likely to succeed with greater co-operation and improved communication and engagement by nations and industries operating in the region.
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Recent advances in molecular biology techniques have shown the presence of diverse microbial communities and endemic species in Antarctica. Endemic microbes may be a potential source of novel biotechnologically important compounds, including, for example, new antibiotics. Thus, the scientific and biotechnological value of Antarctic terrestrial microbial habitats can be compromised by human visitation to a greater extent than previously realized. The ever-increasing human footprint in Antarctica makes consideration of this topic more pressing, as the number of locations known to be pristine habitats, where increasingly sophisticated cutting-edge research techniques may be used to their full potential, declines. Examination of the Protected Areas system of the Antarctic Treaty shows that microbial habitats are generally poorly protected. No other continent on Earth is dominated to the same degree by microbial species, and real opportunities exist to develop new ways of conceptualizing and implementing conservation of microbial biogeography on a continental scale. Here we highlight potential threats both to the conservation of terrestrial microbial ecosystems, and to future scientific research requiring their study.
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Antarctica is widely regarded as one of the planet's last true wildernesses, insulated from threat by its remoteness and declaration as a natural reserve dedicated to peace and science. However, rapidly growing human activity is accelerating threats to biodiversity. We determined how well the existing protected-area system represents terrestrial biodiversity and assessed the risk to protected areas from biological invasions, the region's most significant conservation threat. We found that Antarctica is one of the planet's least protected regions, with only 1.5% of its ice-free area formally designated as specially protected areas. Five of the distinct ice-free ecoregions have no specially designated areas for the protection of biodiversity. Every one of the 55 designated areas that protect Antarctica's biodiversity lies closer to sites of high human activity than expected by chance, and seven lie in high-risk areas for biological invasions. By any measure, including Aichi Target 11 under the Convention on Biological Diversity, Antarctic biodiversity is poorly protected by reserves, and those reserves are threatened.
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Sites of past human activity were investigated to assess the visual recovery of the desert pavement following impacts from human trampling and vehicle traffic. Visually disturbed and nearby control sites were assessed using comparative photographic records, a field-based Visual Site Assessment, and Desert Pavement Recovery Assessment. Sites included: vehicle and walking tracks at Marble Point and Taylor Valley; a campsite, experimental treading trial site, and vehicle tracks in Wright Valley; and vehicle and walking tracks at Cape Roberts. The time since last disturbance ranged from three months to over 50 years. This investigation also attempted to determine what has the greatest lasting visual impact on soil surfaces in the Ross Sea region: dispersed trafficking or track formation? Walking tracks remained visible in the landscape (due to larger clasts concentrating along track margins) long after the desert pavement surface had recovered. However, randomly dispersed footprints were undetectable within five years. For many sites, allowing widespread trampling will give lower medium-term visible impact than concentrating traffic flow by track formation. For steep slopes and sites where repeated visits occur, use of a single track is recommended. Some 1950s vehicle tracks remain visible in the Antarctic landscape, but where visually obvious impacts were remediated, evidence of former occupation was almost undetectable.
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Since the inception of the Antarctic Treaty, numerous regulations for environmental protection were adopted by the Treaty parties to minimise negative environmental impacts of human activity. Nevertheless, the concentration of a variety of human activities in some Antarctic regions leads to a conflict of interest. The Fildes Peninsula on King George Island, in the Antarctic Peninsula, represents a unique example of increasing human pressure due to multiple human uses. Scientific research, station operations, transport logistics, tourism, nature conservation and protection of geological and historical values regularly overlap in space and time. A standardised assessment of fauna, flora and impact of human activities on the terrestrial ecosystem was conducted between 2003–2006 and 2008–2011 to provide a comprehensive dataset that documents the environmental state of the Fildes Peninsula. Management measures are suggested to mitigate these impacts, such as the designation of an Antarctic Specially Managed Area. The political debate amongst the Treaty parties about regulatory measures is on-going, but we strongly recommend immediate action.
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The Antarctic terrestrial environment is under increasing pressure from human activities. The Fildes Region is characterized by high biodiversity, but is also a major logistic centre for the northern Antarctic Peninsula. Different interests, from scientific research, nature conservation, protection of geological and historical values, station operations, transport logistics and tourism, regularly overlap in space and time. This has led to increasing conflict among the multiple uses of the region and breaches of the legal requirements for environmental protection that apply in the area. The aim of this study was to assess the impacts of human activities in the Fildes Region by monitoring the distribution of bird and seal breeding sites and recording human activities and their associated environmental impacts. Data from an initial monitoring period 2003-06 were compared with data from 2008-10. We observed similar or increased levels of air, land and ship traffic, but fewer violations of overflight limits near Antarctic Specially Protected Area No. 150 Ardley Island. Open waste dumping and oil contamination are still major environmental impacts. Scientific and outdoor leisure activities undertaken by station personnel are more frequent than tourist activities and are likely to have a commensurate level of environmental impact. Despite the initial success of some existing management measures, it is essential that scientific and environmental values continue to be safeguarded, otherwise environmental impacts will increase and the habitat will be further degraded. We argue that the Fildes Region should be considered for designation as an Antarctic Specially Managed Area, a measure that has proven effective for environmental management of vulnerable areas of the Antarctic.
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The 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty develops and codifies Antarctic environmental impact assessment (EIA) obligations. This paper outlines the history and present nature of Antarctic EIA obligations and reviews the emergence of Antarctic tourism. The Treaty explicitly recognises the primacy of Antarctica's scientific and environmental values, whereas tourism, while a legitimate activity, is not otherwise an embedded Antarctic activity. The difficulties of applying an EIA system which has evolved primarily to deal with national programme activities to the different activities of commercial tourism is not an argument for absolving tourist activities from these obligations. If tourism activities are not adequately addressed, the impacts may not be appropriately considered and could pose unacceptable risks to an environment supposedly legally safeguarded by international treaty.
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Abstract. The footprint of human activities within Antarctica is increasing, making it essential to consider whether current conservation/protection of environmental and scientific values is adequate. The Antarctic protected area network has developed largely without any clear strategy, despite scientific attempts to promote protection of representative habitats. Many Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) Management Plans do not state clearly if conservation or science is the priority objective. This is problematic as science and conservation may have conflicting management requirements, i.e. visitation may benefit science, but harm conservation values. We examined recent estimated mean annual levels of visitation to ASPAs. On average, ASPAs protecting scientific research interests were visited twice as often as ASPAs conserving Antarctic habitat and biological communities. However, ASPAs protecting both science and conserving habitat were visited three times as often as ASPAs conserving habitat alone. Examination of visitation data showed that the proportion of visitors entering ASPAs for science, environmental management and/or education and tourism purposes, did not reflect the primary reason for designation, i.e. for science and/or conservation. One third of APSAs designated since the Environmental Protocol entered into force (1998) did not describe clearly the main reason for designation. Policy makers should consider for all Management Plans (i) stating unambiguously the reason an area has ASPA designation, e.g. either to protect habitat/environmental values or scientific research, in accordance with adopted guidance, (ii) designating new protected areas where visitation is kept to an absolute minimum to ensure the long-term conservation of Antarctic species and habitats without local human impacts (possibly located far from areas of human activity), and (iii) encouraging the use of zoning in ASPAs to help facilitate the current and future requirements of different scientific disciplines.
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Abstract. Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity is challenged by rapid climatic changes and expansion of the human footprint. As well as the potential for environmental damage at the local level, these challenges are likely to act synergistically to increase the risk of introduction and establishment of non-native species and diseases and reduce the resilience of native ecosystems. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (‘the Protocol’) entered into force in 1998 and is the main governance mechanism that regulates environmental management in Antarctica. We examine how well the Protocol and associated management tools are currently equipped to protect Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity in a warmer and busier Antarctic, considering likely future challenges, current levels of compliance with the Protocol and implementation of its requirements, and participation in environmental matters by Antarctic Treaty Parties. We argue that a strategic-level response will be needed to boost the ability of the Antarctic Treaty System to deal with the large-scale, pervasive challenges of climate change and increased human activity. A strategic planning approach that can (1) account for trends over long periods, (2) take into consideration cumulative effects, (3) be guided by a set of consciously chosen priorities, and (4) take an integrated approach towards management of human activities and the conservation of the Antarctic environment, will permit the anticipation of upcoming challenges and risks and adoption of proactive and holistic management strategies.
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Globally, few protected areas exist in areas beyond the jurisdiction of a single state. However, for over 50 years the Antarctic protected areas system has operated in a region governed through multi-national agreement by consensus. We examined the Antarctic Treaty System to determine how protected area designation under a multi-party framework may evolve. The protected areas system, now legislated through the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty and the Convention on the Conservation of Marine Living Resources, remains largely unsystematic and underdeveloped. Since the Antarctic Treaty entered into force in 1961, the original signatory Parties – and Parties with territorial claims in particular − have dominated work towards the designation of protected areas in the region. The distribution of protected areas proposed by individual Parties has largely reflected the location of Parties’ research stations which, in turn, is influenced by national geopolitical factors. Recently non-claimant Parties have become more involved in area protection, with a concurrent increase in areas proposed by two or more Parties. However, overall, the rate of protected area designation has almost halved in the past 10 years. We explore scenarios for the future development of Antarctic protected areas and suggest that the early engagement of Parties in collaborative area protection may strengthen the protected areas system and help safeguard the continent’s values for the future. Furthermore, we suggest that the development of Antarctica’s protected areas system may hold valuable insights for area protection in other regions under multi-Party governance, or areas beyond national jurisdiction such as the high seas or outer space.
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The Madrid Protocol requires that before any kind of activities are conducted in Antarctica, the possible environmental impacts need to be assessed. Five case studies were investigated to assess the effectiveness of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) system with respect to predicting and managing the effects of visitor activity in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. Investigated EIAs included the decommissioning of the Greenpeace World Park Base, Cape Evans; Taylor Valley Visitor Zone, Taylor Valley; the decommissioning of the Vanda Station; occupation of the Loop Moraine campsite, both in the Wright Valley and McMurdo Dry Valleys; and the occupation and restoration of the ice-free storage area for the Cape Roberts Drilling Project, Cape Roberts. The assessed sites were situated on a variety of landforms, soil parent materials, and local climates. At each site, the history of the site was known, and the time since last disturbance was well constrained. Assessment of the present state of the sites and accuracy of the EIA predictions compared with the actual impacts were carried out in the austral summers of 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 using visual soil assessment methods. At each of the five case studies, the standard of physical landscape recovery was higher than anticipated. Each case study demonstrated a high standard of EIA compliance, appropriate remediation of the site post-event, and follow-up monitoring where promised. Cleanup practices were of a high standard in each of the case studies investigated. The raking out of tracks, redistribution of disturbed stones, and careful backfilling of excavations all assisted in the rehabilitation of the formerly disturbed sites to near their predisturbed condition. Although the EIA process may seem superficial, with a lot of form filling, the process is effective as it raises environmental awareness and motivates visitors to take responsibility for their “footprint” on the environment.
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This chapter attempts to outline the main challenges that National Antarctic Programs (NAP) likely will have to face in the future, as a consequence of changing circumstances stemming both from inside and outside of the Antarctic continent. Such circumstances will likely be the ultimate result of currently observed ongoing trends. Issues challenging the NAPs’ environmental management framework in the resulting future scenarios will be analysed, in conjunction with tools aimed to check and control the NAPs’ environmental performance. The main objective of this exercise is to provide Antarctic managers—and other involved decision-makers—with a basis for understanding the future, and thereby enable them to act with these likely future situations in mind.
Article
The on-going introduction of non-native species to Antarctica due to expanding human activity presents an increasing threat to biodiversity. Under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, all introduced non-native species should be removed from the Antarctic Treaty area. The non-native grass Poa pratensis was first introduced to Cierva Point (Danco Coast, Antarctic Peninsula), along with substantial quantities of non-Antarctic soil, in the mid-1950s. Consistent with the Protocol, in January 2015 an internationally coordinated team undertook the eradication of the grass. Immediately prior to removal of P. pratensis, factors affecting its establishment, persistence and impacts upon local indigenous species was examined within the international management framework of the Antarctic Treaty System. The underlying soil had a high organic content of 15.5%, which may have contributed to the successful establishment of P. pratensis and restricted, at least initially, its vegetative growth to the enriched area. Examination of P. pratensis expansion from the original introduction sites showed that the plant colony intricate root system facilitated little or no coexistence of other native plants within its extent. The non-native plant colony also constituted a novel habitat for soil fauna within Antarctic terrestrial environments. The P. pratensis plant colony provided an unfavorable habitat for two of the locally endemic soil invertebrates, Cryptopygus antarcticus and Belgica antarctica. These observations led to the selection of an appropriate eradication approach, where the plants were targeted for physical extraction along with all underlying soil. During the eradication, c. 500 kg of soil and plant material from the P. pratensis colony was removed from the site. Monitoring one year later showed no evidence of re-establishment. Consistent with the Committee for Environmental Protection ‘Non-native Species Manual’, we recommend development and implementation of rapid response protocols following the discovery of a non-native plant colony to limit future impacts on indigenous species and local habitats.
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The future of Antarctic Science is ours to define - Volume 28 Issue 6 - Mahlon C. Kennicutt, Michelle Rogan-Finnemore, Yeadong Kim, Kazuyuki Shiraishi, Jerónimo Lopez-Martinez
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The Antarctic Conservation Biogeographic Regions (ACBRs), originally proposed in 2012, are now established as an important tool in Antarctic science, conservation, management and policy. Here, we provide a revised version of the ACBRs, reflecting updates in underlying spatial layers, together with the results of new analyses justifying the inclusion of a 16th bioregion. This updated version now covers all ice-free areas of Antarctica and is publicly available through the Australian Antarctic Data Centre. In light of the interest in the ACBRs across a variety of research fields, we also provide a new set of summary statistics for the updated spatial layer, including landscape metrics, climate data, protected area coverage and an overview of human activity. The updated ACBRs represent a contemporary, practical and evidence-based foundation for understanding, conserving and managing Antarctic biodiversity at a continental scale.
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Remediation of sites impacted by human activity in Antarctica is a difficult and resource intensive process. With increasing activity and climate change, the extent of damage from human activities is expected to increase and it will not be feasible to protect the environment entirely. We recommend a triage process be used to provide informed and transparent management decisions for comprehensive and adequate environmental remediation in Antarctica. We provide examples that demonstrate realistic outcomes where we have avoided tying up resources on disturbed sites that will recover naturally, are stable, or too damaged to recover, and that also incorporate feasible operational practices. Not all disturbed sites will be remediated and many of those that are, are unlikely to be returned to pristine condition. The decisions around remediation are not based solely on the desired environmental outcome. In the absence of effective legal obligation, we recognize that financial, social, policy, health and safety, technological confidence, and operational feasibility are part of the decision-making process.
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A brief history of the study of soils in Antarctica is provided beginning with Jensen (1916) who analyzed soil samples collected during the 1907–09 Shackleton expedition and continuing through ongoing efforts by several nations throughout Antarctica. Challenges to studying soils in Antarctica revolve around logistics, a lack of support for mapping, and limitations of current soil classification schemes.
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The magnitude and potential causes of historical climate warming in Antarctica are discussed, based on an analysis of the published literature and the editor’s personal observations over the past 45 years. The potential impacts of continued warming on Antarctic soils is discussed.
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Antarctic soils are vulnerable to disturbance due to their physical properties and naturally slow recovery rates that are suppressed by low temperatures and low availability of liquid moisture.
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We extend a previous analysis of Antarctic tour ship vessel traffic to include 20 years of commercial cruise activity (1993/94–2012/13) using recently digitized historical records and new data on vessel landings since 2008/09. Using tourism statistics from 1989/90–2013/14, we also examine trends in passenger numbers, landings and the nationalities of passengers travelling to the Antarctic Peninsula region. This study represents the most comprehensive long-term perspective on how tour ship activity has changed spatially and temporally over a period in which visitation has grown ten-fold. Passenger landings and marine traffic are highly concentrated at a few specific locations, particularly along the Peninsula’s south-western coast. Antarctic tourism activity is closely correlated with measures of economic activity in those countries contributing the largest numbers of visitors to the region. The nationalities of Antarctic tourists have shifted over the years, particularly with respect to an increasing number of visitors from China. Since emerging markets for Antarctic travel are probably far from saturated, interest in travelling to Antarctica will probably continue to grow. Understanding visitation patterns will focus efforts to monitor potential anthropogenic impacts and inform management decisions regarding activities in and around the Antarctic region.
Article
Environmental impact assessment has been used in the USA since 1970 to effect a comprehensive analysis, at the preplanning or feasibility stage, of potential interactions that major developments might have with the environment. Experience has shown, however, that if the theory is applied too rigorously, the object of the exercise is defeated and EIA becomes a hindrance rather than a useful planning tool. Application of such assessment methodologies in the European context must therefore take account of the lessons learnt in North America. The paper discusses the need for flexible guidelines rather than rigorous standards and criteria. The application of this adaptable methodology is then demonstrated for a major water resource management project in Egypt - namely the establishment of 12,500 hectares of fish farm in the Nile delta. Egypt has already suffered in its strategic water resource development due to insufficient considerations of environmental problems of the Aswan High Dam. An IBRD and FAO backed fisheries project was therefore an ideal opportunity for the consultants to put their developed guidelines to practical application in the field. Major considerations were given to the environmental health aspects of the project and ameliorative measures incorporated into the engineering design following detailed studies into water quality, demography, disease vector ecology and engineering criteria. Field investigation also identified a potential impact on significant archaeological sites in the study area; and the existence of a local flora and fauna which, although limited in numbers, was highly adapted to harsh environmental conditions. Measures were taken in the design to minimise the potential impact at both the construction and operational stages.
Article
The Arctic and Antarctic polar regions are subject to multiple environmental threats, arising from both local and ex-situ human activities. We review the major threats to polar ecosystems including the principal stressor, climate change, which interacts with and exacerbates other threats such as pollution, fisheries overexploitation, and the establishment and spread of invasive species. Given the lack of progress in reducing global atmospheric greenhouse-gas emissions, we suggest that managing the threats that interact synergistically with climate change, and that are potentially more tractable, is all the more important in the short to medium term for polar conservation. We show how evidence-based lessons learned from scientific research can be shared between the poles on topics such as contaminant mitigation, biosecurity protocols to reduce species invasions, and the regulation of fisheries and marine environments. Applying these trans-polar lessons in tandem with expansion of international cooperation could substantially improve environmental management in both the Arctic and Antarctic.
Article
The Antarctic Treaty has been the principal governing force in Antarctica since 1961. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Madrid Protocol) requires that all past and present work and waste-disposal sites are cleaned up unless doing so would cause greater environmental damage or the site is considered to be a monument of significant historical importance. Despite this requirement, legacy waste issues remain unresolved in parts of Antarctica. Clean-up operations in Antarctica are complicated by a combination of restricted access, extreme weather, financial limitations and logistical constraints. Further complications arise at sites such as Wilkes Station, where the requirement for clean-up coexists with the desire to preserve potentially valuable heritage items. Several buildings and artefacts with potential heritage value remain at Wilkes Station. However, Wilkes Station is not officially designated as a historic site or monument under the Antarctic Treaty, nor is it a national or world heritage place under Australian domestic legislation. Consequently the buildings and relics at Wilkes Station are afforded little protection under the existing relevant domestic and international legislative frameworks. This paper uses Wilkes Station as a case study of the complexities associated with conducting clean-up operations at contaminated sites with informal heritage value in Antarctica. The legislative and environmental considerations surrounding clean-up operations at Wilkes Station are also investigated. Furthermore, we argue the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to operations which facilitate the clean-up of legacy waste and preservation of the potential heritage values at Wilkes. Finally, we recognise that the complexities discussed in this paper have wider applicability and we investigate the relevance of these issues to other Antarctic contaminated sites with formal or informal heritage value.
Article
The properties and spatial distribution of soils and soil-like bodies in valleys of the coastal Larsemann Hills and Vestfold Hills oases—poorly investigated in terms of the soil areas of East Antarctica—are discussed. In contrast to Dry Valleys—large continental oases of Western Antarctica—the studied territory is characterized by the presence of temporarily waterlogged sites in the valleys. It is argued that the deficit of water rather than the low temperature is the major limiting factor for the development of living organisms and the pedogenesis on loose substrates. The moisture gradients in the surface soil horizons explain the spatial distribution of the different soils and biotic complexes within the studied valleys. Despite the permanent water-logging of the deep suprapermafrost horizons of most of the soils in the valleys, no gley features have been identified in them. The soils of the wet valleys in the Larsemann Hills oasis do not contain carbonates. They have a slightly acid or neutral reaction. The organic carbon and nitrogen contents are mainly controlled by the amount of living and dead biomass rather than by the humic substances proper. The larger part of the biomass is concentrated inside the mineral soil matrix rather than on the soil surface. The stresses caused by surface drying, strong winds, and ultraviolet radiation prevent the development of organisms on the surface of the soil and necessitate the search for shelter within the soil fine earth material (endoedaphic niche) or under the gravelly pavement (hypolithic niche). In the absence of higher plants, humified products of their decomposition, and rainwater that can wash the soil profile and upon the low content of silt and clay particles in the soil material, “classical” soil horizons are not developed. The most distinct (and, often, the only diagnosed) products of pedogenesis in these soils are represented by organomineral films on the surface of mineral particles.
Article
This data set represents the accumulation of 19 years of seabird population abundance data collected by the Antarctic Site Inventory, an opportunistic vessel-based monitoring program surveying the Antarctic Peninsula and associated sub-Antarctic Islands. This Data Paper, which includes 1124 records from 113 locations for seven species of seabirds (Adélie Penguin [Pygoscelis adeliae], Gentoo Penguin [P. papua], Chinstrap Penguin [P. antarctica], Macaroni Penguin [Eudyptes chrysolophus], Blue-eyed Shag [Phalacrocorax atriceps], Kelp Gull [Larus dominicanus], and Southern Giant Petrel [Macronectes giganteus]), includes data already published by the Antarctic Site Inventory as well as seven years of recent data not previously published. Census data represent a mix of nest and chick counts; each census record includes the location, date, and precision of the census count, along with any auxiliary notes. Included with the database are maps to clarify the location of specific breeding populations that may be new (and thus not previously reported) or ambiguous. This compilation represents the best single source of raw data on the spatiotemporal dynamics of the Pygoscelis penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula region and provides population data on several flying bird species less frequently studied.
Article
Mahlon C. Kennicutt II, Steven L. Chown and colleagues outline the most pressing questions in southern polar research, and call for greater collaboration and environmental protection in the region.
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Lack of field time, access to experts, and the challenges associated with research permits make traditional approaches for determining species richness (comprehensive collection and determination of biological specimens) impractical in many situations. To accelerate local biodiversity assessments for conservation and resource management, scientists need both cost-effective survey methods and validated statistical models that link sample data to estimates of true species richness. Lichen communities are reliable indicators for the condition of many different terrestrial ecosystems because they are sensitive to environmental stress and represent a promising system in which to develop alternative approaches to biodiversity monitoring. We propose a citizen scientist-based survey methodology for macrolichen diversity in which parataxonomic units (PUs), as identified in lichen photographs, serve as species surrogates to estimate lichen diversity. We validate this method by photographically surveying lichens at five park units previously surveyed as part of the Lichen Biomonitoring Project (LBP) at George Mason University. Using the Chao2 metric to account for variation in sampling effort, we compared observed (raw PU counts) and estimated (effort-corrected) PU and species richnesses and found that, for all park units, our methodology gave similar diversity estimates to those obtained by the LBP. While PUs provide rapid assessment of diversity within a sample, they do not address the challenge of upscaling from samples to estimate total species diversity in an area. We propose a statistical method to estimate PU richness that, unlike phenomenological methods like Chao2, can exploit replication in our sampling design to explicitly model PU occupancy and detection probability. In sum, we present new methods for both surveying diversity and extrapolating sample data that can be widely applied for rapid assessment of biodiversity.
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Antarctic soils provide habitat for fauna and flora which are regionally important and, in some cases, include endemic representatives. Thus, protection of this component of the ecosystem should be a priority. In this chapter, our focus is on the vulnerability of Antarctic soils to foot traffic (heretofore referred to as trampling) and possible future scenarios with regards to the conservation of Antarctic soils. We begin by briefly describing the principal abiotic and biotic features of Antarctic soils, and reviewing the limited studies that have examined the consequences of trampling. We then examine a range of drivers of change that could play a decisive role in the future conservation of Antarctic soils, such as climate change, human pressure and species introduction. Taking into consideration the current legal and management measures for Antarctic soils conservation, we propose two possible future scenarios assuming different management models: a Business-As-Usual scenario and a conservation-focused situation. The chapter ends with a small reflection centered on the difficulties in achieving a conservation-focused future, and the need to consider whether conservation of soil against trampling should be a priority on the agenda of the Antarctic Treaty nations and the international scientific community.
Article
Eight pedons representing three climatic zones and parent materials ranging from Holocene to Pliocene were characterized from the Dry Valleys region of Antarctica. All of the soils contain abundant water-soluble salts, including NaCl in coastal regions, NaNO3 along the polar plateau, and Na2SO4 in intermediate areas. The salts originate primarily from atmospheric deposition and accumulate linearly with time. Based on a comparison of salt input by precipitation and the salt content of the profiles, minimal leaching of salts has occurred during the past 3 million yr in soils along the polar plateau. Chemical weathering generally is restricted to oxidation of Fe-bearing minerals and some clay authigenesis. Some of the soils contain ice-cemented permafrost; however, many of the older soils with <5% moisture content have dry permafrost. Although the soils boar many features of Aridisols, they fail to meet the requirements of an aridic soil moisture regime because of the very cold temperatures. They could be classified as Cryids if the Aridisols suborder were expanded to include soils with temperatures that never exceed 5 or 8 °C. In the proposed Gelisols order for permafrost-affected soils, the soils are classified as Natric, Glacic, and Typic Anhyturbels (evidence of cryoturbation) and Salle and Petrosalic Anhyhaplels (no cryoturbation).
Article
The evolving institutional arrangements for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of Antarctic tourism are evaluated and suggestions made on its future. The EIA provisions of the 1991 Madrid Protocol are legally required by companies, registered in Treaty signatory states, in planning and managing all tourist activities. An assessment of the three tiers of EIA established under the Protocol is presented. Potential solutions for assessing impacts of Antarctic tourism include adoption of strategic environmental assessment, regional assessments and environmental auditing. International best practice methods should be adopted in the initial environmental evaluation along with greater consistency of EIA application through indicative lists and guidelines, a dedicated database of Antarctic EIAs and increased cooperation in the EIA process between the tourism industry and Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties that support Antarctic logistics and science.
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The scope and intensity of human activity in the Antarctic region has changed considerably over the past 100 years, resulting in significant modifications to the Antarctic environment and its ecosystems, and to the institutional arrangements governing human activities. Since the nineteenth century, Antarctica has seen periods of heavy resource exploitation followed more latterly by swells of governmental scientific research programmes which have, in turn, led to a plethora of international agreements. By the end of the twentieth century, commercial tourism was also firmly established. Development in human engagement with the Antarctic environment has been accompanied by changes in human values, technologies and ways of thinking. This chapter sets the scene for the entire volume by providing a historical background on human activities, their management and their implications, which other chapters build upon. The purpose of this chapter is not to explore the full breadth of human activities, environmental impacts and governance arrangements in Antarctica. Rather, it aims to provide a contextual framework that can be used to anchor together the diverse subjects treated in the subsequent chapters.
Article
Aim: To present a synthesis of past biogeographic analyses and a new approach based on spatially explicit biodiversity information for the Antarctic region to identify biologically distinct areas in need of representation in a protected area network. Location: Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic. Methods: We reviewed and summarized published biogeographic studies of the Antarctic. We then developed a biogeographic classification for terrestrial conservation planning in Antarctica by combining the most comprehensive source of Antarctic biodiversity data available with three spatial frameworks: (1) a 200-km grid, (2) a set of areas based on physical parameters known as the environmental domains of Antarctica and (3) expert-defined bioregions. We used these frameworks, or combinations thereof, together with multivariate techniques to identify biologically distinct areas. Results: Early studies of continental Antarctica typically described broad bioregions, with the Antarctic Peninsula usually identified as biologically distinct from continental Antarctica; later studies suggested a more complex biogeography. Increasing complexity also characterizes the sub-Antarctic and marine realms, with differences among studies often attributable to the focal taxa. Using the most comprehensive terrestrial data available and by combining the groups formed by the environmental domains and expert-defined bioregions, we were able to identify 15 biologically distinct, ice-free, Antarctic Conservation Biogeographic Regions (ACBRs), encompassing the continent and close lying islands. Main conclusions: Ice-free terrestrial Antarctica comprises several distinct bioregions that are not fully represented in the current Antarctic Specially Protected Area network. Biosecurity measures between these ACBRs should also be developed to prevent biotic homogenization in the region.