Antarctic Polar Regions | Protecting Antarctica

General mobilisation

Of all the websites devoted to the world of the Antarctic on the Internet (see panel), those dealing with the protection the environment are by far the most numerous. Taking all the necessary precautions when it comes to using this source of information, you can follow the route the whales take through the oceans or learn about how seals are protected in the Antarctic. You can find out about the various bases, almost live, and go on a virtual exploration of the Amundsen-Scott base at the South Pole. Or you could learn about the impact of a certain type of tourism, go on a hair-raising adventure with the guy who was the first person to take a kayak trip through the Antarctic waters, keep track of the size of the hole in the ozone layer on a week-by-week basis, read the Washington Treaty, share in the experiences of ecologist tourists, and so on.

At the beginning of 1997, we were able to follow the voyage of the Greenpeace survey ship Arctic Sunrise in the waters off the Antarctic peninsula and receive daily updates not only from each of the survey members, as well as the progress of the expedition, but also news bulletins, photos and videos. If the Antarctic continent has now managed to spawn a worldwide movement aimed at protecting its environment and raising awareness of the damage that may be caused to it, it is because the problems posed by the potential exploitation of the earth's final unspoiled continent continue to arouse waves of protest throughout the world. There has been a bitter conflict over the past 20 years, fought both in environmentalist circles and in the more politicised spheres of the Washington Treaty. The former have usually taken the path of direct action, while the latter have indicated where that action should be directed.
Before the beginning of the 1960s, there was no ecological conscience. "The polar tradition did not include the slightest concern for protecting the environment," wrote Paul-Emile and Jean-Christophe Victor. "To realise that, all you have to have done is visit the bases established prior to 1956. The sheer quantity and variety of waste left abandoned around the buildings provided the most obvious evidence. You could find just about anything: empty (and full) food cans, broken or empty bottles, oil drums, sledges with runners missing, dog harnesses, horse collars, sacks of oats, various types of machinery in a more or less rusted state. This also applies to Hut Point (Scott's base, occupied in 1901-1903), Cape Royds (Shackleton, 1907-1909), Cape Evans (Scott, 1910-1912), Commonwealth Bay (Mawson, 1912-1914), Port Martin (E.P.F. - Expéditions Polaires Françaises -, 1950-1952) or the Marette base (E.P.F 1951-1953), just to mention the ones that I know of."

Greenpeace has been at the forefront of this struggle, which has sometimes had to adopt extremist measures. We know that the greens are usually willing to make any kind of sacrifice for their cause; and as the stakes here are especially high, the resources deployed have been gigantic. First of all, there was the construction of a base on the continent itself - at Cape Evans to be precise. That was in January 1987, a year before the Wellington Accord: the base has been christened The Greenpeace World Park as a reference to their desire to see the Antarctic one day designated as a worldwide nature reserve.
Taking advantage of its facilities on the spot, the NGO has organised numerous campaigns aimed at monitoring life in the bases installed on the 6th continent and setting up a programme of investigations into the effects of human activities on the Antarctic ecosystem. This is how Greenpeace Belgium found the funds required to send the Brussels biologist Maj De Poorter to their Antarctic base two years running with the assignment of reporting on the state of the environment in the bases located on the Antarctic peninsula. In her report, she wrote this: "Many of the bases took absolutely no care whatsoever in protecting the environment. There was stuff everywhere: rubbish, garbage bins, old tyres, pierced oil drums that had spilt their foamy contents on the ground, etc. During a visit to the Chilean base at Teniente Marsh, I met a military officer who could not understand that I, a civilian - and a woman to boot - would not obey his orders and would not go away as he wanted. When finally we were set down to visit the base ... and we discovered that everything the scientists and the military were using was simply being thrown outside their quarters and left abandoned in a small lake that had no doubt once been rich in biological species, the officer let fly a salvo of insults at us. A few weeks later, as the journalist accompanying us had filed his report in one of the major Spanish dailies, the matter reached the attention of the embassy. The upshot was that the base in question was cleaned up shortly afterwards; When, a few years later, I met the same officer who had treated us so well at an international meeting, he came up to me with open arms, saying that it was marvellous to meet me again..."
For a number of seasons, Greenpeace has visited Antarctic bases in this way to check that the people there were abiding by the recommendations of the various agreements they had signed; these mission reports have been sent each time to the delegations of the member countries. And each time, Greenpeace has reiterated its proposal of forming an agency to protect the Antarctic environment (AEPA, Antarctic Environmental Protection Agency) which would have remedied - among other things - the fact that since 1961, the major decisions relating to the Antarctic have been taken by diplomats and not "polar people". .
While it may be the organisation that gains the most media coverage and is the best known to the public at large, Greenpeace is not alone in its fight. Today, it is no longer the only NGO dealing with affairs in the Antarctic and calling for the creation of a world nature reserve. Since 1979, two years after Greenpeace was created in London, ASOC (Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition) - a powerful NGO made up of more than 200 environmental organisations spread across 50 countries (including Greenpeace) - has also been militating in the most active manner possible for the creation of a worldwide park in Antarctica and the protection of natural resources in the Southern Ocean - seals, whales, penguins, etc. To achieve this aim, the organisation has created The Antarctica Project, the only NGO in the world working full time to protect the 6th continent, as well as the ocean surrounding it. An example of an awareness campaign run by ASOC: in March 1997, the NGO forcefully attracted the attention of the American public to the fact that six years after the Madrid Protocol was signed, the United States government was still hesitating about ratifying the document - despite rumours claiming that its signing was imminent.