10-year cleanup plan recognises unique value of Antarctic environment

18 April 2002

Australia will give its environmental credentials a further boost by committing to a 10-year plan to clean up old Australian Antarctic waste sites, Dr Sharman Stone announced tonight (Thursday 18 April 2002).

Polar experts from 13 countries met at an international conference on contaminants in freezing ground in Hobart this week. While Antarctic contamination is much less than in Arctic regions, waste dumping and contamination is concentrated on coastal rocky areas rich in animal life. These places make up less than 0.05 percent of the continent's area, but often include breeding, nursery and resting places for wildlife.

"The Australian Antarctic Division hosted this 3rd international conference on contaminants in freezing ground and in doing so presented the results of some of the best scientific work on human impacts research in the Antarctic", Dr Stone said.

"The conference also offered the chance to exchange the best ideas and experience on issues such as oil spills, frozen soil contamination and atmospheric monitoring".

The four-day conference concluded today with an open workshop to identify key areas for future research.

"One of the most pressing areas to pursue in the future concerns the development of international guidelines for waste site clean up in Antarctica." Dr Stone said.

"As the custodian of 42% of the Antarctic continent, Australia takes its responsibility to protect the environment very seriously, but we must work in tandem with other countries to clean up areas that have been neglected or mistreated in the past".

The waste station at old Casey Station has been identified as being one of the areas most needing attention. The 1950s to 1970s practice of expecting new snow falls to simply cover rubbish has come unstuck.

"We now know the sea bed has been polluted by past practices. It is this generation that needs to clean up, given that a policy of 'out of sight' is not a safe disposal option at all", Dr Stone said.

All Australian Antarctic and subantarctic station sites will be incorporated in the 10-year cleanup plan announced by Dr Stone tonight.