Antarctica faces an uncertain future amidst growing pressures from global climate change and human activities – a major conservation challenge that will require a commitment from scientists, policy-makers and others with interests in protecting the environmental and scientific values of the southernmost continent.
That’s the conclusion from a group of international researchers, including Alison Murray, Ph.D., of the Desert Research Institute (DRI), who identified the major conservation challenges facing the Antarctic region in a policy forum article published July 13 by Science magazine.
The group used a horizon-scanning approach, a strategy used to identify conservation matters that are of both regional and global significance, to examine emerging trends and potential threats to the Antarctic terrestrial and marine regions. The authors note that Antarctica faces growing threats from global warming, ice loss, increased tourism, over-fishing in the region, pollution and invasive species. A longer-term concern is the exploitation of natural resources such as oil, gas and minerals.
The article was the result of a horizon-scanning summit, which was held in South Africa by Steven Chown, Ph.D., Monash University, Australia. Chown, the lead author of theScience article, gathered experts in various fields, including science, government, and tourism, to weigh in on the diverse factors, from climate to human impacts, that may pose challenges to the Antarctic. The participants also came up with possible solutions and strategies to address certain issues.
“We looked at emerging conservation risks, and how issues are being dealt with now,” said Murray, a molecular microbial ecologist. “The participants reflected on what we are doing right, what we need to take into consideration, and what we need to be aware of as we continue to have a strong presence in research and tourism in the Antarctic.
The Antarctic Treaty System is an international agreement that went into effect in 1961 that established protocols for the scientific and environmental management of the continent,
In conjunction with the release of the article, members of the Scientific Community for Antarctic Research (SCAR) are meeting over the next two weeks for the XXXII SCAR biennial meetings and Open Science Conference, which will emphasize SCAR’s dual role in facilitating scientific research and providing advice to policy makers.
Murray, who contributed expertise in microbial ecology, biodiversity and biological oceanography in the Southern Ocean, is the lead representative for the U.S. Life Sciences Standing Group team, which led to her participation in the horizon scanning and role as coauthor of the article.
“In the end”, Murray said, “we hope that this effort and the article enhance the conversation between scientists, decision-makers and the Antarctic Treaty System.”
To read the article, visit www.sciencemag.com.