Challenges to the Future Conservation of the Antarctic

Science Magazine, July 2012

Changing environments and resource demands present serious challenges to the future conservation of Antarctic, according to a policy forum piece in the July 2012 issue of Science magazine. An abstract of the article can be viewed here.

Twenty-six international Antarctic experts led by Professor Steven Chown and including IAATO Operations Director Dr Kim Crosbie authored the article. The group represents a wide range of perspectives from the scientific, governmental and academic, tourism and environmental advocacy fields.

The paper sets out the major conservation challenges facing the region both now and over a 50-year period. These challenges were identified using a horizon scanning approach, now routinely applied to identify conservation matters that are of both regional and global significance. The goal of the work is to assist decision-makers in identifying and developing effective policies that can address these challenges.

The group highlighted the following challenges:

  • Regional warming, ocean acidification and changes in sea-ice distribution. These were posited are the most immediate threat to species, ecosystems and resources around the Antarctic margin.
  • The need for continued marine ecosystem protection, to ensure that resource extraction – e.g. commercial fishing – is conducted in a sustainable way.
  • Increased human activity and the potential for pollution from vessel emergencies and point-source discharges, as well as the disturbance of wildlife.
  • Diversification of activities by both the scientific and tourism communities.
  • Growing global human populations and lifestyle expectations over the next 50 years, increasing resource demands and the conservation challenges associated with greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The management and governance of activities that bridge the research into mineral, hydrocarbon and other natural resources on one hand and exploitation on the other.
  • Bio-prospecting, if it leads to nondisclosure of information and profit-motivated restrictions.
  • The potential for permanent human settlements, precipitated by the diversification and sharing of science and tourism ventures to include more land-based components.

The article concluded by noting, "Action to adapt to and mitigate the consequences of change must be taken by all Antarctic visitors, operators, and national programs. This will require improved ways to use scientific information effectively and an increase in the speed of decision-making."


"The greatest challenge will be addressing threats that are global in scale, but with impacts that are being realized most significantly in the Antarctic."