The spatial distribution of Antarctica’s protected areas: a product of pragmatism, geopolitics, or conservation need?
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.