Antarctic Treaty Implemented (1961)

Ask any fifth-grader to name the seven continents, and you’ll get the right answer, including Antarctica as one of the seventh.  But Antarctica is different than the other six.  Antarctica belongs to all of the world’s people, but can be used only certain ways.  The Antarctic Treaty, which entered into force on June 23, 1961, governs how the world treats this very special place. 

Antarctica is the huge continent at the “bottom” of the earth (image by Dave Pape)

            The Antarctic Treaty was created as the first post-World War II agreement to limit the spread of arms, particularly nuclear weapons.  It was also a response to seven countries (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom) that claimed sovereignty over some parts of the continent.  Most other nations did not recognize those claims, but awareness rose that a permanent solution was needed to avoid actions (such as mining) on those claims and any new ones.  During 1957-1958, those seven nations plus five more joined together in a global scientific program known as the International Geophysical Year (IGY).  The Antarctic region was a major site for their scientific work.

            Spurred by the success of that venture, the United States led an effort with the other eleven IGY participating nations to prepare a treaty to govern the Antarctic. The treaty was completed on December 1, 1959, followed by its endorsement by the 12 original participants in its drafting; it began operating about 18 months later, on June 23, 1961.  The Antarctic Treaty has provided for a long-term peaceful agreement to maintain the region as a global resource. 

Chinstrap Penguin (photo by Eammon Maguire)

            The treaty has assured that the Antarctic is used exclusively for research and conservation.  Article I states the matter plainly:  “Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only.”  Based on Article I, all research facilities and the information obtained by research studies are open to everyone for inspection and use. 

            An addition to the treaty that entered into force in 1998 (often called the Madrid Protocol) addressed environmental protection more fully.  The addition created a Committee for Environmental Protection to enforce the treaty’s principle that “(t)he Parties commit themselves to the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems and hereby designate Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.”  It includes a framework for protecting the native flora and fauna and prohibits the introduction of non-native species.  It also allows for enhanced protection of special areas with “outstanding environmental, scientific, historic, aesthetic or wilderness values…”

Danco Island, Antarctica (photo by Gary Bembridge)

            The treaty is implemented through a secretariat headquartered in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  It holds an annual meeting of the parties and of the Committee for Environmental Protection, usually during April-June. The list of parties to the treaty has risen to 54 nations, including 29 voting and 25 non-voting members.

References:

Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty.  The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.  Available at:  https://www.ats.aq/e/protocol.html.  Accessed March 5, 2020.

Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty.  2016.  25 Years of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.  Available at:  https://documents.ats.aq/atcm39/ww/atcm39_ww007_e.pdf.  Accessed March 5, 2020.

U.S. Department of State.  Antarctic Region.  Available at:  https://www.state.gov/key-topics-office-of-ocean-and-polar-affairs/antarctic/.  Accessed March 5, 2020.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
January February March April May June July August September October November December