New Member calls for increased attention on Antarctica

14 September 2011 | Article
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IUCN has had a strong Antarctic interest in the past, contributing its expertise in support of the Antarctic Treaty System. In recent years however, IUCN’s Antarctic focus has waned. While presenting at the recent Oceania Regional Conservation Forum, Dr. Neil Gilbert, Environmental Manager at Antarctica New Zealand, urged IUCN to become more engaged in the work of the Antarctic Treaty System.

The environmental challenges in Antarctica are significant”, Dr Gilbert noted, “and IUCN has much expertise and experience that it can bring to help address these”.

The Antarctic Treaty, signed by twelve nations in 1959, but now with a membership of 48 Countries, provides the governance and management regime for Antarctica – Earth's only continent without a native human population.

Antarctica is facing growing environmental challenges. Parts of Antarctica have experienced rapid warming and an altered climate over the last 50 years. Such change is influencing native fauna and flora and allowing alien species to become established.

If the Antarctic Treaty System is to maintain Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science, then innovative solutions to current environmental challenges will need to be found.

We are observing changes in the breeding locations of certain species of penguin, and expansion in the range of native flora in some areas of Antarctica”, Dr Gilbert explained.

Perhaps more worryingly we have also observed the establishment and persistence of several non-native plant and insect species” he said. “Helping to manage the implications of such change is where IUCN can bring its global expertise to bear”.

Antarctica New Zealand is one of the recent Members of IUCN and has more than 50 years of experience of Antarctica environmental issues and management. It is the Crown Entity responsible for developing, managing and executing New Zealand Government activities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, in particular the Ross Dependency.

Some facts on Antarctica:

  • The Antarctic Treaty System is comprised of several international agreements including the Antarctic Treaty and its Environmental Protocol and the Antarctic Fisheries Convention (CCAMLR).
  • There are 48 Parties to the Antarctic Treaty, 28 of whom have “consultative” or “voting” status under the provisions of the Treaty.
  • The coldest temperature ever recorded was in Antarctica (-89.6oC).
  • Antarctica is the driest, windiest, and highest of all continents.
  • It contains 90% of the world’s ice and 70% of the world’s freshwater.
  • The total amount of ice covering Antarctica is about 29 million km3;  this amounts to 60 to 65 metres of sea level rise if it all melted.
  • Under the provisions of the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty, the Parties have designated the region as a natural reserve dedicated to peace and science.
  • Antarctica is the only continent with no indigenous species of ants.

For more information on the Antarctic Treaty System or Antarctica New Zealand, contact n.gilbert@antarcticanz.govt.nz


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