Antarctica is the world’s last great wilderness, a place of outstanding natural beauty. Its plant and animal life are fragile and unique. For all these reasons, Antarctica is a place worth protecting.
In the past, animal life on and around Antarctica was hunted and fished without regulation. Rubbish was dumped or burnt on Antarctica or even put in the ocean. The protection of Antarctica was not a priority when compared to the conduct of science and scientific research.
We are now much more environmentally aware about how our actions can impact on the environment and the Antarctic Treaty has evolved to reflect this. Through the Madrid Protocol on Environmental Protection (Protocol, and entered into force in 1998), ,which designates Antarctica as an area dedicated to peace and science, Antarctica’s flora and fauna are protected, and fishing is increasingly regulated via CCAMLR. The indiscriminate dumping of waste is a thing of the past and scientists have strict rules under the Protocol, which sets out basic principles and mandatory rules to human activities in Antarctica to, for example, minimise waste, prevent pollution and clean up the earlier waste disposal. It also stipulates that all parties commit themselves to carrying out environmental impact assessments for all new activities such as the establishment of a new research station.
Certain parts of the continent are judged to be so special that they have been given even greater protection. There are a variety of protected and managed areas:
Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs)
Antarctic Specially Managed Areas (ASMAs)
Historic Sites and Monuments (HSMs)
What do you notice about the list of species that are threatened?
Most of the animals on the chart are sea birds. The conservation status of seabirds, and albatrosses in particular, is declining at a faster rate globally than any other species group of birds. Did you notice how many on the list were albatrosses?
This list is some years old and some of the species are now recovering for example the fur seal, why do you think this is?
Case study: The Wandering Albatross
The Wandering Albatross is an interesting case study of conservation in action. Although Bird Island, South Georgia is not covered by the Antarctic Treaty the Wandering Albatross is an important part of the Antarctic ecosystem.
There are 22 species of albatross currently recognised
The wandering albatross is the largest sea bird
It has a wingspan of more than 3 metres, longer than any other living bird
All albatrosses and their relatives (petrels), species lay a single egg
Nine of the 22 species of albatross only breed every second year
Wandering albatrosses take 10 years to reach sexual maturity
They can live up to 60 years
They have one of the lowest reproductive rates of any bird
Forage for food over thousands of square kilometres
They can travel 1000 kilometres in a single day!
A wandering albatross can fly round the Antarctic twice in the year between breeding attempts.
Read more about the albatross:
What is the status of albatrosses?
There are 22 species of albatross and their status varies for different species from near threatened to critically endangered.
The wandering albatross is currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. The wandering albatross population at South Georgia is declining (as shown in the graph below), which includes data from the main breeding site at Bird Island. The main threat is considered to be incidental mortality in longline fisheries. Compared with other albatrosses that breed in South Georgia, the wandering albatross is particularly at risk because adults fly huge distances north from the colonies into subtropical waters, where there are extensive tuna fisheries. The parties to CCAMLR have been active in seeking to reduce seabird mortality via fishing activity in the Southern Ocean.
Decline in the population
In South Georgia, the population as a whole declined by 1.8% per annum between 1984 and 2004. The table below shows the change in population of breeding pairs in 1984 and 2004 in South Georgia. Although South Georgia is not part of Antarctica and is not covered by the Treaty it is covered by CCAMLR and is subject to Conservation Measures.
Estimates of the number of pairs of wandering albatross breeding in a single season at South Georgia in 1984, 2004 and 2014.
|(1) Proud Island||8||6||3|
|(2) Bird Island||1366||948||772|
|(3) Cape Alexandra||57||40||35|
|(4) Coal Harbour||19||16||18|
|(5) Frida Hole||9||6||3|
|(6) Chaplin Head||3||0||0|
|(7) Weddell Point||47||10||10|
|(8) Kade Point||41||23||10|
|(9) Saddle Island||53||40||32|
|(10) Cape Demidov isthmus||3||2||1|
|(11) Bomford Peninsula||24||15|
|(12) Samuel Island||8||1|
|(13) Cape Rosa||13||4||4|
|(14) Nunez Peninsula||0||3||1|
|(15) Annenkov Island||264||193||159|
|(16) Diaz Cove North||0||0||0|
|(17) Kupriyanov Island Outer||8||5||9|
|(18) Kupriyanov Island Inner||2||0|
|(21) Inner Lee||9||9||15|
|(22) Outer Lee||28||9||3|
|(23) Skua Island||0||0||0|
|(24) Prion Island||60||43||37|
|(25) Petrel Island||0||1||0|
|(26) Invisible Island||2||1||1|
|(27) Mollyhawk Island||6||3||1|
|(28) Crescent Island||9||15||11|
|(29) Albatross Island||171||155||139|
|(30) Nameless Point||9||2||0|
|Total South Georgia||2230||1553||1278|
Activity 1: characteristics
The wandering albatross is threatened in Antarctica mainly due to human impacts. Look back at the albatross fact file, and determine which three characteristics of the birds make long term survival of the species even more challenging? Explain your answer.
Activity 2: conservation map
Give reasons why a map would be useful in the conservation and management of the Southern Ocean. What do you think should be displayed on the map?
Activity 3: population trends
Look back at the graph of wandering albatross population trend and the table of wandering albatross breeding pairs at South Georgia. Comment on the trends.
Activity 4: methods of conservation
In your opinion, which methods of conservation are more is likely to reverse the decline in albatross numbers? Explain your answer.