This year we are celebrating two important milestones — the 30th anniversary of the moratorium on commercial whaling and the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Madrid Protocol).
As this magazine went to press I attended the annual International Whaling Commission meeting in my new role as Australia’s Commissioner to the IWC. Australia was instrumental in establishing the moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, and as Commissioner I will continue to advocate for a permanent end to all forms of commercial whaling and so-called scientific whaling. Australian researchers, many coordinated by the Australian Marine Mammal Centre at the Australian Antarctic Division, have demonstrated that all information necessary for the management and conservation of whales can be obtained through non-lethal methods.
Australia, alongside France, also played a key role in the development and signing of the Madrid Protocol, which bans mining in Antarctica indefinitely and designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science. The Protocol has been a highly successful agreement, providing a framework for advancing environmental protection and accommodating emerging environmental challenges. At this year’s Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, Antarctic nations issued the ‘Santiago Declaration’, reaffirming their commitment to the objectives and purpose of the Antarctic Treaty and Madrid Protocol.
Among the rules for Antarctica’s protection are requirements that environmental impact assessments are completed for planned activities. This issue of the magazine includes one such example at Davis research station, aimed at identifying the level of wastewater treatment needed to ensure that Australia meets its environmental responsibilities under national legislation and the Madrid Protocol.
Wastewater management is recognised by all national Antarctic programs to be a complex issue, and a wide range of technologies are in use across Antarctic stations. In the last issue of this magazine we showcased the truly cutting-edge advanced wastewater treatment plant developed by the Australian Antarctic Division and a range of academic and industry partners, as a result of our scientists’ environmental impact assessment advice. This technology has now been nominated for an engineering excellence award.
Another exciting engineering project is of course the design and build of our new Antarctic icebreaker. The icebreaker is the centrepiece of our Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, launched by the Australian Government in April this year. In this issue we look at what it takes to build a multi-purpose ship that meets the challenges of science and resupply today and 30 years into the future.
In this first year of the Action Plan we are also developing options for future aviation capabilities that provide year-round access to Antarctica. This is not a commitment to build a year-round runway; at this stage we are only scoping environmental and operational costs of establishing such a capability.
Similarly, we have begun scoping development of a deep-field overland science traverse capability and mobile research station infrastructure — both essential for Australia’s involvement in major Antarctic research projects, including the quest for a million year-old ice core.
Our traverse investment, combined with work towards an expanded aviation capability, will significantly improve Australia’s leadership in science and operations and offer Australia’s Antarctic Program unprecedented access to and across East Antarctica.
If science is the ‘currency’ of Antarctica then the Australian Antarctic Science Program has proven its worth this year with a range of important research papers published. This season we have a number of exciting projects on the go that will continue to add to this knowledge bank in years to come. (See the science pages of this magazine for an overview).
Our sub-Antarctic station on Macquarie Island has also been an important focus of research effort for the past 70 years and the Australian Government has recently committed $50 million to replace the ageing station with state-of-the-art infrastructure that supports globally important science and a permanent, year-round presence.
Planning to decommission and remove ageing infrastructure on the island is now underway, with a focus on lightening the environmental footprint on this important World Heritage site. The new research station is expected to be operational in 2021–22.
Dr Nick Gales
Director, Australian Antarctic Division