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

July 1
Duck Stamp Born (1934)
July 2
Morrill Act Created Land-Grant Universities (1862)
July 3
Great Auk Went Extinct (1844)
July 4
Stephen Mather, Founding Director of the National Park Service, Born (1867)
July 5
Yoshimaro Yamashina and Ernst Mayr, Ornithologists, Born (1900, 1904)
July 6
Maria Martin, Naturalist and Artist, Born (1796)
July 7
Alaska Admitted as a State (1958)
July 8
1234567890
July 9
Starbucks Abandoned Plastic Straws (2018)
July 10
Rainbow Warrior Bombed and sunk (1985)
July 11
World Population Day
July 12
Herbert Zim, Creator of “Golden Guides,” Born (1909)
July 13
Source of the Mississippi River Discovered (1832)
July 14
George Washington Carver National Monument Established (1943)
July 15
Emmeline Pankhurst, British Suffragette Leader, Born (1858)
July 16
UNESCO Added Giant Panda and Shark Sanctuaries to World Heritage List (2006)
July 17
Handel’s “Water Music” Premiered (1717)
July 18
Gilbert White, the “First Ecologist,” Born (1720)
July 19
Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal, Created (1976)
July 20
Gregor Mendel, Pioneering Geneticist, Born (1822)
July 21
Aswan High Dam Opened (1970)
July 22
Ratcatcher’s Day
July 23
Commercial Whaling Banned (1982)
July 24
Machu Picchu Discovered (1911)
July 25
Jim Corbett, Tiger Conservationist, Born (1875)
July 26
James Lovelock, Originator of the Gaia Theory, Born (1919)
July 27
Przewalski’s horse gave birth by artificial insemination (2013)
July 28
Beatrix Potter, Author and Conservationist, Born (1866)
July 29
International Tiger Day
July 30
Golden Spike National Historical Park Created (1965)
July 31
Curt Gowdy, Sportscaster and Conservationist, Born (1919)
January February March April May June July August September October November December