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Antarctica plagued by over-fishing, tourism, ozone

Over-fishing, tourism and ozone depletion continue to plague Antarctica: Annan

Substantial increases in illegal fishing, tourism, bioprospecting, climate change and depletion of the ozone continue to pose major challenges to the Antarctic, and governments should continue to make major efforts to secure the area as a natural reserve, says United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"Efforts should be continued to ensure that commercial activities will not impact on the successes of the Antarctic Treaty system, in particular in securing Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science," says Mr. Annan in a report detailing the progress of the Treaty.

In particular he notes that "illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing for toothfish in the Southern Ocean still exceeds reported catches despite major efforts to address such activities." Other major areas of concern are the increase in tourism over the last 10 years, and the emerging threat of bioprospecting which is on the rise.

During 2003-4, illegal, unregulated and unreported toothfish fishing was estimated at 15,992 tons, up from 13,804 in 2000-1. The number of captured seals was also up from 2001 to 3,709, even though not all countries cooperating with the 1998 Madrid Protocol which governs protection and management had reported their activities.

There was also a huge increase of 308 per cent in ship-borne tourists to the Antarctic Peninsula since 1993, up to 27,324 in 2004-5, from 6,704 in 1992-3. An increase in high-risk, adventure tourism has also wrought havoc on the region, creating the need for new search and rescue missions and country liability assessments.

"Global changes, in particular climate change and the depletion of the ozone layer, remain major threats," the report says. Several glaciers including Brown Glacier on Heard Island, and Collins Glacier on King George Island have retreated by several metres over three years, providing evidence of continued glacial melting. A ripple effect has impacted animals in the area, with reductions in the breeding of three seabird species correlated with increases in sea temperature and the loss of penguin nests correlating to a decline in krill due to retreating pack ice.

These developments came despite "unique" international cooperation, "in particular in connection with the study of global changes," the positive introduction of a Secretariat in 2004 to head the effort, and the opening or upgrading of nine stations to monitor the state of the region, according to the report.

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