ANTARCTICA - Managing the Wilderness Environment
Another area under pressure is Antarctica, which serves as a good example of how people can attempt to balance the needs of economic development and conservation. Antarctica is the World’s southern-most continent. It is a land made up of mainly ice (99% of the continent is covered in ice sheet) and is uninhabited aside from a few thousand scientific researchers. It is a land mass with mountains and volcanoes beneath and protruding above the ice, but it also has lots of sea ice which changes in size and distribution throughout the year. The lowest ever temperatures recorded on Earth have been recorded here, at Vostok, Antarctica, where it dropped to nearly -89.2 °C.
These temperatures make it a truly EXTREME wilderness environment, very dangerous for humans to visit and live. In addition, for many months during the year there is 24 hours of darkness or 24 hours of light as the Earth orbits the sun. You can also witness the Aurora Australis or southern lights here, and a huge range of wildlife from emperor penguins, seals to Whales.
The environment is also incredibly sensitive. It can take many hundreds of years for rubbish to decompose because of the extremely low temperatures, and the food chain is also delicate because most of the marine life rely upon Krill as their primary source of food.
Threats to Antarctica from economic development
Little economic development has taken place because Antarctica is so far from world markets, and its environment is so hostile. However, population growth and resource shortages may open Antarctica up to development in the future. Antarctica is currently protected from development by the Antarctic treaty of 1959.
1. Sealing was the first industry to develop in Antarctica. Seal hunters began catching Antarctic seals for their oil and fur in the late 1700s. This led to the almost extinction of Fur seals by the 1820s, so the hunters hunted elephant seals. In 1964, all commercial seal hunting in Antarctica was stopped. The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, signed in 1972, established guidelines for any future sealing. It prohibits the taking of fur, elephant, and Ross seals and limits the annual catch of crab eater, leopard, and Weddell seals.
2. Whaling began in Antarctic waters in the 19th century. Thousands of Whales were caught and nearly all the whales caught in the world were caught in Antarctic waters. In 1931, a peak year, 40,199 whales were caught in the Antarctic, while only 1,124 were caught in the rest of the world. So many whales were caught that their numbers declined, just as had those of the seals. In 1986, the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling, though Japan continues to take Antarctic whales in the name of scientific research.
3. Commercial fishing takes place in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, started by the Soviet Union in 1967. This intensive fishing led to severe declines in the numbers of Antarctic cod and other types of fish. Krill fishing is growing rapidly. This is a problem as Krill are a main food source for many sea creatures in the Southern Ocean. Krill is harvested as a source of food for the growing aquaculture (fish farming) industry. The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources was set up in 1982 to set catch limits on krill, finfish, and other marine animals.
4. Minerals have been found in Antarctica. Only two large mineral deposits have been found: iron ore in the Prince Charles Mountains and coal in the Transantarctic Mountains. Currently it would cost too much to get these materials to market to make them economically attractive.
5. There may be large reserves of Petroleum in Antarctica. If found petroleum would be very difficult to extract, as the Southern Ocean is deep, icebergs would pose a problem to oilrigs as would fierce storms. The environmental impact of spills would be greater in Antarctica because low temperatures slow the growth of biological organisms that reduce crude oil to environmentally harmless components.
6. Tourism is growing as an industry, this is because Antarctica has abundant scenic resources.
By Joe Mastroianni, National Science Foundation - Source
NEXT UNIT - Living World - Antarctica