Human Impacts on Antarctica and Threats to the Environment

Antarctica is certainly the most pristine place on earth although it is not as unspoiled as may be imagined. For more than a hundred years people have travelled to Antarctica and most parts have now been visited.

Some Antarctic species have been taken to the verge of extinction for economic benefit. Others have been killed or disturbed, soils have been contaminated, untreated sewage has been discharged into the sea and rubbish that will not decompose or break down has been left behind in even the remotest parts.

Recently attitudes have changed as we begin to realise that there are few unvisited places left on earth and that they are tremendously important to humanity. Antarctica’s clean air, water and ice of are of importance to science for understanding how the Earth’s environment is changing both naturally and as a result of human activity.

Tour operators are beginning to tap a huge and ever increasing demand to visit the Earth’s last great wilderness. Both science and tourism have the potential to damage the very qualities that draw them to Antarctica.

A cleaner future

Environmental audits are now carried out around bases, on land and in the sea to assess the impact that the base and its activities is having on the area around it. Any activity is bound to have some degree of disturbance to the environment, vehicle exhausts, wildlife disturbance, waste of various types being produced etc.

Some bases are now experimenting with alternative energy sources, the Australian Mawson base for example now has a wind powered electricity generator – a fairly obvious choice for one of the windiest places on earth! But problematic as the wind is so strong so often that the windmills are at risk of damage.

Protected areas are being set up with various levels degrees of protection, no vehicles allowed, limitations to annual visitors, or even no people allowed at all in some cases.

Expeditioners are now educated far better about protecting the environment and are frequently guided by a code of conduct while in Antarctica.

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