Several processes contribute to the overall management of the Antarctic region, including the framework provided by protected areas, as well as activities on the stations and in the field.
Under the Madrid Protocol, certain areas receive a higher level of protection if they have outstanding environmental, scientific, historic, aesthetic or wilderness values. The parties to the Antarctic Treaty have developed guidelines for assessing areas suitable as Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs), and for preparing the required management plans, which are submitted by the proposing party to the Committee for Environment Protection and approved at an Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. The management plans contain information on the reasons for designating an area as an ASPA. They also identify restricted zones, the conditions under which permits may be granted, as well as the conditions under which an area may be accessed and what kind of activities may be conducted. Regular reviews - every five years - help to determine whether the management objectives are achieved and the values are preserved. Entry into an ASPA is prohibited unless a permit has been issued either by the Australian Antarctic Division or the equivalent government department of other countries.
Australia administers management plans for 11 ASPAs in Antarctica, and is also responsible for implementing the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management Plan, and the Mawson's Huts Historic Site Management Plan.
In 2002, the Australian Antarctic Division became the first national Antarctic program to implement an environmental management system certified to the international standard ISO 14001. The environmental management system continues to provide a framework for the systematic management of the ways in which the Australian Antarctic program interacts with the environment.
Each station has a nominated environmental officer who is responsible for reporting issues as they occur and suggesting improvements in the way activities are carried out. However, there is recognition that environmental protection is everybody's responsibility. A web-based reporting system allows any expedition member to submit information or suggestions on environmental issues.
The Australian Antarctic Division, as lead agency for Australia's Antarctic program, ensures that everyone involved in the program is aware of their personal responsibility to care for the environment. At appointment, all expeditioners must agree to abide by a code of personal behaviour, which includes a practical commitment to Australia's environmental management responsibilities. Induction and training of new employees includes an introduction to the relevant Australian laws and the division's approach to environmental matters. At Australia's Antarctic and subantarctic stations, the station leader is responsible for environmental management and is assisted by the station environment committee, a station environmental officer and a station waste-management officer.