Management of Antarctic Specially Protected Areas: permitting, visitation and information exchange practices
Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs) represent the highest level of area protection within the Antarctic Treaty area. To reduce environmental impacts, ASPA visitors must comply with the Area's management plan and receive an entry permit from an appropriate national authority. Parties to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty are obliged to exchange information on: i) the number of permits allocated for the forthcoming season, and ii) the number of visits to ASPAs during the previous season. We assessed the effectiveness of current permitting and information exchange practices by examining ASPA visitation data supplied to the Antarctic Treaty System's Electronic Information Exchange System during 2008/09–2010/11. We found that Parties have interpreted and implemented the protected area legislation inconsistently. Furthermore, some Parties did not fulfil their obligations under the Protocol by failing to provide full information on ASPA visitation. Estimations suggested that the level of ASPA visitation varied with ASPA location and the main value being protected. However, without full disclosure by Parties, ASPA visitation data is of limited use for informing general and ASPA-specific environmental management practices. Improved provision and formal interpretation of ASPA visitation data are recommended to enable more co-ordinated and effective management of activities within ASPAs.