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Teachers’ notes | The Antarctic Treaty

Learning objectives:

  • To gain an understanding of the Antarctic Treaty
  • To foster skills in decision-making and justification
  • To be able to distinguish between a fact and an opinion
  • To appreciate the success in international cooperation in Antarctica
  • To think about rights and responsibilities of nations and individuals

All Agreed?

This activity introduces students to the idea of rules that might govern Antarctica. It is also an opportunity for students to practise their application of formal language using the word bank.

The Antarctic Treaty System

This activity allows students to get to grips with the complexities of the Treaty by putting them in a decision-making role. In advance it would be a good idea to download and print out the Antarctic Treaty System and the Applications list beforehand.

Most of the ten activities proposed are based on authentic examples. The ‘answers’ are listed below:


Activity Answer
Scientists have collected a rock containing platinum group elements. They want to take samples away to conduct experiments. Allowed. Under the 1998 Environmental Protocol, all commercial mining is banned but geological research is allowed.
Scientists from different nations want to share your data and information about climate change. Allowed. The Treaty strongly supports international co-operation to make advances in science and requires results to be shared.
Your scientists want to catch up to 600 Minke whales a year in Antarctic waters for scientific research. No decision possible – whaling is not covered by the Antarctic Treaty System. Antarctica has a large Minke whale population, so this application could be accepted or rejected under the separate rules of the International Whaling Commission.
A big clothing company wants to start a fashion craze for seal fur coats, and have submitted a proposal to catch a hundred fur seals a year. Rejected. Taking fur seals in Antarctica is banned under the 1972 Agreement to protect seals.
Scientists want to build an airstrip at one of your research stations in order to bring in supplies and people by plane. Allowed. This actually happened in 1989, but only after the UK had undertaken a detailed survey of the possible environmental impacts of the new airstrip.
In recent years, your nuclear energy programme has grown as a way of reducing carbon emissions from other energy sources. There is a proposal to dispose of your nuclear waste in remote parts of the Antarctic ice sheet. Rejected. There is a ban on the dumping of all hazardous materials on Antarctica.
Tuvalu, a small country in the South Pacific, wants to sign up to the Antarctic Treaty. Scientists from Tuvalu want to take part in Antarctic research into climate change. As Tuvalu’s islands lie only four metres above sea level, life for the 10,500 people that live there is threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change. Allowed. As a member of the United Nations, Tuvalu would be allowed to join, so long the country could show it is carrying out a programme of active scientific research.
A proposal to use military satellite data to spot fishing boats in Antarctic waters that are fishing illegally has been submitted. Allowed. Even though the hardware is military, it would be used for peaceful purposes. Also illegal fishing should be prevented under the 1982 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
A section of your fishing industry wants to make up for the depleted stocks of fish at home by increasing their catches in Antarctic waters. Allowed, subject to approval by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and only if they stay within the allowable catch limits.
A medical research unit wants to harvest some microscopic plants from the depths of the Southern Ocean with the hope of developing a new way of treating people with third degree skin burns. Allowed. There are currently no rules governing ‘bio-prospecting’ in the Southern Ocean. Any large scale harvesting could require approval through the CCAMLR but small-scale sampling would be allowed.

Making claims

The map is can be used on a whiteboard where students can be asked the discussion questions. More detailed background information is available on the download ‘Territorial claims – a slice of history’.

Working together

The Meltdown activities add a Citizenship dimension to explore the wider issues of international cooperation and how the successes in Antarctica might be applied to help resolve other global conflicts and/or in recognising the rights and responsibilities of individuals at school.

For the latest updates on the Treaty, including outcomes of the Consultative meetings held in Edinburgh, June 2006 visit the links page in this section.