Australian officials actively participate in the international forums of the Antarctic Treaty System to promote improved environmental protection and conservation outcomes for the Antarctic region.
There are numerous examples of management achievements in recent years:
- Australia hosted the 35th ATCM and the 15th meeting of the Committee for Environmental Protection in June 2012. These meetings helped Australia demonstrate its commitment to protecting the Antarctic Treaty, the Madrid Protocol and the Antarctic environment.
- Since 2014, an Australian has held the influential and high-profile position of Chair of the Committee for Environmental Protection, which is established under the Madrid Protocol to advise the parties on how best to achieve their shared objective of comprehensively protecting the Antarctic environment.
- Australia, with France and Spain, led diplomatic efforts in 2012, 2013 and 2014 to encourage Antarctic Treaty parties that had not yet acceded to the Madrid Protocol to do so. Pakistan acceded to the protocol in 2012, and Venezuela and Portugal acceded in 2014.
- The Committee for Environmental Protection adopted the Non-native species manual in 2011, following work initiated by Australia, New Zealand and France. The manual seeks to safeguard Antarctic biodiversity by providing practical guidance to help parties prevent or minimise the introduction of non-native species to Antarctica, and the transfer of species between sites in Antarctica.
- In 2012, the Committee for Environmental Protection and the ATCM endorsed the results of research led by Australia and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, which identified 15 biologically distinct ice-free Antarctic Conservation Biogeographic Regions. The Antarctic Treaty parties agreed that the biogeographic regions can be used as a framework to support conservation management, including further development of the Antarctic protected areas system, and minimise the unwanted transfer of species between Antarctic locations.
- In 2012, following a proposal from Australia, New Zealand and France, the Committee for Environmental Protection finalised a study of the environmental aspects and effects of Antarctic tourism. The study found no evidence of significant environmental effects, but highlighted the need for improved site monitoring and data to inform environmentally sound tourism management.
- An Antarctic clean-up manual, which provides practical guidance on cleaning up past Antarctic waste disposal sites and abandoned worksites, was adopted in 2013 by the Committee for Environmental Protection, following a proposal by Australia and co-sponsorship by the United Kingdom. The manual assists parties to use the most environmentally effective and cost-effective approaches to clean-up activities.
- Site-specific guidelines continue to be an effective tool to promote the safe and environmentally sensitive conduct of Antarctic tourism. In 2013, Australia participated in an international team that conducted an onsite review of areas used by tourists in the Antarctic Peninsula region. This work resulted in improvements to 11 site-specific guidelines, and new guidelines for 2 additional sites.
- In 2014, following a proposal led by Australia, the Antarctic Treaty parties established a new ASPA to protect the outstanding and unique geological values in the Larsemann Hills region, close to Australia’s Davis Station.
- Australia participated in an international steering committee, led by New Zealand, to guide the development of an online Antarctic Environments Portal. The portal aims to support sound management of the Antarctic environment by providing an accessible source of ‘policy ready’ scientific summaries for key Antarctic environmental issues. The portal was endorsed by the Committee for Environmental Protection and the ATCM, and launched in 2015.
- In 2015, Australia supported development of a report by BirdLife International about IBAs in Antarctica. This report provides a foundation for long-term monitoring of seabird populations in the region, and their response to climate change and other environmental effects.
- In CCAMLR, Australia has played a leading role in discussions about how to improve the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources. For example, in 2011, Australia was successful in obtaining CCAMLR agreement to a binding conservation measure on a ‘General framework for the establishment of marine protected areas’. Since then, Australia, France and the European Union have been active in progressing a proposal for an East Antarctic Representative System of Marine Protected Areas. Although consensus has not been reached, significant progress has been made during the past 4 years.
- Australia’s patrol presence in the Heard Island and McDonald Islands region has resulted in no reported illegal fishing activity in the Heard Island and McDonald Islands exclusive economic zone since 2004.
- In 2012, CCAMLR adopted a binding Compliance Evaluation Procedure, which started in 2013. For the first time, CCAMLR has been able to assess CCAMLR member compliance with a core set of conservation measures. The Compliance Evaluation Procedure has allowed an objective assessment by CCAMLR of member noncompliances and the assigning of a compliance status. This has led to responses that include changing procedures in member countries, imposing sanctions on vessels and improving conservation measures, where required.
- In 2012, the Heard Island and McDonald Islands toothfish fishery gained Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. This process is independent of the Australian Government; however, the MSC certification is testament to the good management of the fishery. MSC certification has also been received for the other target species in the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery—mackerel icefish—and for Australia’s other subantarctic toothfish fishery around Macquarie Island.
- In 2011, CCAMLR adopted 2 resolutions on fishing vessel safety. The first requires CCAMLR members to provide information related to their flagged fishing vessels to the relevant Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre before the vessel enters the CCAMLR area. The second resolution, ‘enhancing the safety of fishing vessels in the Convention Area’, calls on CCAMLR members to consider and implement appropriate measures to increase the safety of their fishing vessels.
In recent years, there has been near zero seabird bycatch by legal fishers operating in CCAMLR-managed fisheries. However, bycatch of seabirds, including endangered albatrosses and petrels, remains unsustainable in the Southern Hemisphere. All 22 species of albatross protected under the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels are also listed by the IUCN as threatened. It is estimated that, worldwide, up to 300,000 seabirds are killed each year during interactions with coastal and high-seas fisheries (see Vertebrate populations). Coastal fisheries are subject to state legislation and fisheries regulations; in contrast, some high-seas fisheries are open-access operations. Although the high seas have been divided into management areas of various regional fisheries management organisations, the incentives to avoid overexploitation and to operate sustainably are in some cases weak (Crothers & Nelson 2007). Many of the high-seas tuna fisheries, including in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, have only recently adopted conservation measures concerning seabird bycatch mitigation, and effective implementation of the known, effective bycatch mitigation measures is lacking. Bycatch from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is difficult to estimate, but known to occur at a higher rate than from legal fisheries because of the likely absence of bycatch mitigation measures. Australia, through its active engagement with the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels and other international forums (including CCAMLR and regional fisheries management organisations), is actively pursuing the adoption of sustainable fishing practices that minimise seabird bycatch.
From 2011 to 2015, Australian officials held lead positions on the executive committee and environment expert group of the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs. They have also chaired meetings of the key decision-makers for the national Antarctic programs that are operating stations that are in the Larsemann Hills—a site of high conservation value in East Antarctica. These forums were used to advance the protection of the AAT environment. Specifically, Australia:
- convened a workshop to engage Antarctic programs in a coordinated, multidisciplinary environmental data collection initiative, the Southern Ocean Observing System
- co-convened a workshop to provide Antarctic programs with advice on achieving best-practice wastewater management
- negotiated an agreement on mechanisms that will strengthen the protection of the Larsemann Hills, notwithstanding growing pressures on the region through station growth
- developed an incident reporting system, which facilitates information sharing on significant environmental issues and lessons management
- distributed maps of wildlife concentrations in the AAT to enable other countries’ aviation contractors to adopt appropriate flight paths
- supported research to quantify the factors that impede waste management and station clean-up actions, consistent with obligations arising from the Madrid Protocol
- contributed to work with the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research to develop techniques and checklists to raise supply chain managers’ awareness of issues around non-native species introductions
- convened a web forum to facilitate environmental managers’ information exchange
- contributed practice-based information to Antarctic Treaty meetings on, for example, the management of hydroponics in Antarctica, mechanisms for repairing or remediating environmental damage, oil spill management readiness, methods and technologies for improving energy management, development of environmental training packages, and the role and management of remotely piloted aircraft supporting national Antarctic program activities.