Planning for protection

A classification system for different regions within the Antarctic continent, based on the physical environment, was endorsed by the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) at its annual meeting in June this year. The ‘Environmental Domains Analysis', developed by New Zealand scientists, will help policy-makers identify and prioritise areas of Antarctica that may be in need of protection (see figure).

Among the other tasks of the CEP meeting — which is run in conjunction with the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) — was consideration of 21 new and revised management plans, including endorsement of a new Antarctic Specially Protected Area jointly proposed by Australia and China to protect the emperor penguin colony at Amanda Bay, near the Larsemann Hills.

The Committee also considered the environmental aspects of China’s draft plans to establish a new Antarctic research station. Constructing and operating the station at Dome Argus (Dome A), some 1200km inland at the highest (4000m) and possibly coldest location on the Antarctic ice sheet, will be challenging. However, China has identified the site as an important location for a range of scientific research, including deep ice core drilling to contribute to the long-term climate record, as well as geological studies and astronomical observation. China has now circulated its final plans, taking into account comments raised by ATCM Parties and the CEP, and will begin construction during summer 2008–09.

The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research reported on a workshop held in May 2008 to assess the conservation status of southern giant petrels in the Antarctic region. Available data suggest the Antarctic population is not ‘threatened’ in terms of the IUCN threatened species criteria, but the CEP acknowledged the sensitivity of individual birds and colonies and called for continued action to minimise human disturbance, particularly at breeding sites, and to improve the process for collecting, managing and analysing population data.

The CEP agreed to Australia's proposal for a joint meeting of the CEP and the Scientific Committee on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (SC-CAMLR). Both bodies provide important advice on the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment, and while SC-CAMLR focuses on conservation in the marine environment, there are a number of areas of mutual interest. A workshop will be held in April 2009 to discuss opportunities for future cooperation and collaboration on issues such as environmental monitoring, climate change research, protected areas and spatial management, threatened species protection and non-native species.

As the CEP workload has continued to increase each year, significant environmental issues were prioritised for consideration in a five-year work plan. The ‘high priority’ issues identified — including non-native species, climate change, tourism and marine protected areas — will be discussed at the next CEP meeting in Baltimore in April 2009.

On a personal note, I was very pleased to be elected as a CEP Vice-Chair, taking over from Tania Brito of Brazil. This appointment maintains Australia’s active involvement in the CEP, which was chaired from 2003–2006 by the Australian Antarctic Division Director, Dr Tony Press. I look forward to working closely with the Chair, Neil Gilbert from New Zealand, the other Vice-Chair, Yves Frenot from France, and the Secretariat, to help guide and support the Committee. As part of this new role I am also leading a subsidiary body to make recommendations on ways to improve the quality of protected area management plans.


Antarctic Territories Environment and Policy, AAD

Download the full report of the 11th meeting of the CEP.