Mark Baker/AP
Britain's Princess Anne inspects the desk that British explorer Robert Falcon Scott
used at his Terra Nova Hut in Antarctica in a photo from 2002.

Waste Management a Concern in Antarctica

April 13, 2009 10:30 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
Decades of exploration have led to a waste management problem in Antarctica, and many are wondering what should be done about the clean up.

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure?

For all the pristine scenery Antarctica offers, one can also find areas littered with waste, according to Wired. “There aren’t exactly piles of trash covering Antarctica, but the waste’s location on biologically active shores makes it most disruptive to both wildlife and other human visitors.”

But amid the rubble are historical relics from explorations decades ago, like an early-20th-century whaling vessel, Captain Scott’s hut by the Ross Sea, and wooden water boats. Determining which have “legitimate historical or cultural value and which should be removed is a contentious task without any clear answers,” Wired wrote.

Some of the items left behind are “a reminder of what could have been,” if the Antarctic had not been declared “off-limits,” Antarctic guide Graham Charles explained. “The rest of them are junk piles, and it’s just abysmal.”
Managing trash and pollution on the continent has been an issue for several years. In 2001, The World Today reported that the company Collex/Onyx was working with the Australian government to spearhead the first international effort to clean up the region.

A Web site by Collex/Onyx and Vivendi Environnement states that cleaning up the area now means overcoming some difficulties, such as seasonal weather and limited sunlight on the continent, toxicity of the waste and the fragility of containers holding waste (due to the melting and freezing that takes place yearly).

“This is a legacy of past community standards and lack of understanding of environmental impacts,” the site explains. “Whilst these sites were considered acceptable many years ago, practices have changed with time as people are becoming more environmentally aware.”

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Reaction: Thoughts on the problem

In a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 1988, author, photographer and lecturer Tui De Roy described being “utterly dismayed to discover the amount of man-made detritus left behind” in Antarctica, with “rusty derelict buildings in the midst of penguin colonies, heaps of undecaying garbage by the side of modern bases, abandoned fuel tanks leaking their deadly chemicals into an ecosystem without bacteria to break them down.”

De Roy, who wrote the letter after spending several weeks in Antarctica, concluded, “If it was logistically possible to carry, by sea or air, the necessary materials to support the human presence in Antarctica, it should also be feasible to remove the remains.”

Related Topic: Effects of ecotourism

Ecotourism has also raised concerns in Antarctica, with one NSW conservationist recently cautioning Australian tour operators to limit the number of trips they take to the continent, The Daily Telegraph reported. This year, approximately 30,000 people are expected to travel to Antarctica, up 400 percent since 1993.

Dr. Rosemary Black stated that wildlife and vegetation are being affected, and diseases spread. “It’s clear we need to monitor and manage tourism in this pristine environment,” she added.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Antarctica is among the most popular destinations for ecotourism. UNESCO notes that ecotourism has positive and negative effects. Benefits include increasing public awareness of an environment’s cultural and natural history, and encouraging its conservation in the future.

Reference: Antarctica


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