Antarctic governance


Antarctic Treaty

The Antarctic Treaty and related instruments of the Antarctic Treaty System provide the international framework for management of the Antarctic region. From the 12 original signatories (including Australia) in 1959, membership of the treaty has now grown to 48 countries. The Antarctic Treaty area - the area south of 60°S - comprises 10% of our planet's total surface area. Australia is one of seven countries that claim territory in Antarctica. While the Antarctic Treaty is in place, territorial claims are effectively set to one side and the Antarctic is available to be used by any nation for peaceful purposes. Russia and China have maintained stations in the region administered by Australia (Figure 7.1) for many years and India is currently building a station.

Australia was instrumental in the negotiations leading to the treaty and, together with France, instigated the negotiations that resulted in the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. The Madrid Protocol, as it is known, establishes an internationally agreed framework for comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment. It designates Antarctica as a 'natural reserve, devoted to peace and science'. Activities subject to the protocol must undergo an assessment of environmental impacts and then be conducted in a manner that limits adverse impacts on the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems. Each signatory state is required to create enabling legislation to give effect to the environmental protection measures of the protocol on the activities of their national programs and citizens while in Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty does not apply to Australia's subantarctic Islands.

Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources

Conservation of Antarctic marine living resources is subject to the regulations imposed under the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. This convention came into force in 1982 as part of the Antarctic Treaty System. Article 1 of the convention defines its area of operation as 'the area south of 60° South latitude and... the area between that latitude and the Antarctic Convergence which form part of the Antarctic marine ecosystem'.29 The Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was established because of a general concern among the treaty parties that an increase in krill catches in the Southern Ocean could have a serious effect on populations of krill and other marine life; particularly on birds, seals and fish, which mainly depend on krill for food. Antarctic krill(Euphausia superba) was first fished in the 1960s at low levels (4 tonnes in 1961-62 and 306 tonnes in 1964-65) as an exploratory fishery.30 Commercial exploitation began only in the late 1970s and early 1980s when around 500 000 tonnes of Antarctic krill were caught each year.31CCAMLR was initiated in response to this rapid expansion of the krill fishery.

The philosophy underlying this convention aims to ensure not just a sustainable fishery but a sustainable ecosystem. This sets CCAMLR apart from regional fisheries management organisations, which focus solely on the management and production of harvested species. CCAMLR considered the needs of krill-dependent predators and set catch limits to ensure their needs were met. A number of krill-dependent predators were selected as indicators of the health of the Southern Ocean ecosystem and the CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Program was developed. Its aim is 'to detect and record significant changes in critical components of the ecosystem to serve as a basis for the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources'.32 Indicator species include Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) and crabeater seals (Lobodon carcinophagus).

CCAMLR now considers and adopts a range of conservation measures, including those that protect the general marine environment, species and communities, and those that manage commercial fishing activities. The precautionary approach adopted by CCAMLR requires that conservation and management measures are established so that populations of harvested species do not decrease in size below levels that ensure stable recruitment. CCAMLR also encourages national programs operating in Antarctica to undertake fisheries-related research aimed at maintaining stocks of harvest species at levels that allow the greatest possible recruitment into populations of target species.33

The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources was the first international convention whose fisheries management strategy was based on the ecosystem approach. It has successfully implemented this tactic in new, as well as established, fisheries. Until recently, fishing for Antarctic krill in the Southern Ocean has remained well below set catch limits. How well the current management strategy will function when the fishery expands remains to be seen.

Wienecke B (2011). Antarctic environment: Antarctic governance. In: Australia state of the environment 2011, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65b2b307c0