Australia is strongly committed to the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment. The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) is responsible for fulfilling that commitment on behalf of the people and government of Australia, as well as protecting and managing the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands, and managing the environmental aspects of Australia’s other activities in the subantarctic.

In 1991, Australia and the other nations of the Antarctic Treaty met in Madrid to sign a historic pact to conserve the Antarctic environment, taking in Antarctica and the surrounding Southern Ocean waters south of latitude 60 degrees South. The ‘Madrid Protocol’ (Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty) came into force in 1998.

With the vision of ‘Antarctica valued, protected and understood’, the AAD is firmly committed to an environmentally responsible approach to all its activities, both in the Antarctic and in Australia.

The AAD’s Territories, Environment and Treaties Section develops policy on a broad range of environmental issues.

The AAD Environmental Policy 2018–2022 [PDF] outlines a commitment to continual improvement in environmental performance, and forms the foundation of the AAD’s Environmental Management System in compliance with the international standard ISO 14001. The AAD Environmental Management Unit, guided and supported by AAD Environment Groups, implements the environmental management requirements set out in the international standard. Antarctic Station environment committees convene on a regular basis and report to the AAD on environmental issues.

Australia’s Antarctic environmental policies and practices are underpinned by a complex framework of legislative and administrative requirements, supported by scientific research and principally led by programs conducted by the AAD.

Australia is active in the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP), an Antarctic Treaty body meeting annually under the terms of the Madrid Protocol. Australia also plays an active role in the Antarctic Environment Officers’ Network (AEON).

The AAD administers the World Heritage Territory of Heard Island and MacDonald Islands in the Southern Ocean, about 4000 kilometres southwest of Perth, Australia. The region is unique amongst subantarctic islands for its lack of human-introduced plants and animals.

Australia’s Antarctic station leaders are appointed inspectors under the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act and an Environment Officer is appointed at each station, selected from those over-wintering.

Expeditioners come from a range of backgrounds and experience, and all undertake comprehensive pre-departure training in environmental protection. Activities away from the station are governed by the AAD Operations Manual and ANARE Field Manual.

Australian Antarctic research investigates a number of environmental issues. The Human Impacts program aims to understand the Antarctic environment and the impact of human activities upon it.

The Antarctic Marine Living Resources (AMLR) program concentrates on obtaining information to manage the sustainable use of Southern Ocean fisheries and to protect the marine environment around Antarctica.

In addition to its involvement in the CEP, Australia is also active on environmental issues in the various forums of the Antarctic Treaty system, mainly through the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP), and the Scientific Council for Antarctic Research (SCAR).

The AAD is responsible to the Tasmanian Department of Natural Resources and Environment for the environmental management of its activities at Tasmania’s subantarctic Macquarie Island, with the island recognised as part of the state of Tasmania.