Human activities in Antarctica are very limited in comparison to other continents. There are no permanent populations living in Antarctica and neither industrial nor agricultural activities occur there. However, although the human presence is quite small compared with the overall size of the continent, human activities are concentrated on small ice-free areas adjacent to the coast, because they are easy to access by ship and they provide a stable surface for building. These ice-free areas are also home for most of the land-living plants and animals of Antarctica.The environmental impacts of human activities are concentrated in these areas, and impacts include disturbance to the landscape and contamination with pollutants.
Australia operates three permanently occupied research stations on the Antarctic continent (Casey, Davis and Mawson), as well as a station at Macquarie Island, and uses various ships and aircraft to transport people and goods to and from the stations.
Under Article 17 of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Madrid Protocol), all parties are required to provide an annual report on steps taken to implement the protocol. To help monitor and manage the ways in which the Australian Antarctic program interacts with the Antarctic environment, the Australian Antarctic Division established a set of operational indicators. A number of these are discussed below. Annex III to the protocol outlines minimum requirements for waste disposal and waste management practices in the Antarctic, and this forms the basis of the division's waste management practices.
The operational indicators provide information about the actual or potential impacts of Australian Antarctic program operations on the Antarctic environment. The number of people present at or near the stations and on the ships is recorded monthly and reported annually (Figures 7.8 and 7.9). This provides a measure of the human pressure on the natural environment. Population sizes vary among the stations, between seasons (summer versus winter) and with year, depending on the research and building and maintenance requirements.
In the most recent decade, the winter populations on stations ranged from 14 at Macquarie Island to 25 at Davis Station. Since the rodent and rabbit eradication program began in 2010, the winter population has more than doubled at Macquarie Island. In 2011, there are 40 personnel on the island. Davis Station, where a variety of research, maintenance and building programs occur, has had the largest population over summer for many years, of up to 100 personnel.