Antarctic terrestrial habitats are vulnerable to impacts resulting from global and local human activities. Global activities have resulted in climate change affecting parts of Antarctica, stratospheric ozone depletion over the continent and dispersal of pollutants to the poles. Local impacts were initiated with the first arrival of humans on the continent in the early twentieth century, but became more widespread with an increase in human activity and footprint from the 1950s onward. Currently, over 30 nations are active in scientific research in the region, more than two million tourist landings have been made, and human visitation is unlikely to decrease. Terrestrial communities are vulnerable to damage or destruction caused by construction projects, vehicle movements and human trampling. Soils have become contaminated with chemicals leaching from waste dumps, and past and current fuel spills have lead to hydrocarbon pollution, particularly near research stations. Terrestrial ecosystems are also under threat from non-native plants, animals and microorganisms introduced inadvertently by historic industries, national operators and the tourism industry. The ‘Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty’ sets out minimum standards of environmental practice for Parties operating in Antarctica. The legislation has gone some way in reducing local environmental impacts, but there is clear evidence that the rigour with which it is applied is not consistent within the continent.
Authors: Hughes, Kevin A. ORCID record for Kevin A. Hughes