Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Biology of Polar Regions$

D.N. Thomas, G.E. Fogg, P. Convey, C.H. Fritsen, J.-M. Gili, R. Gradinger, J. Laybourn-Parry, K. Reid, and D.W.H. Walton

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199298112

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199298112.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy).date: 26 May 2018

Human impact on polar regions

Human impact on polar regions

(p.301) 11 Human impact on polar regions
The Biology of Polar Regions

David N. Thomas

G.E. (Tony) Fogg

Peter Convey

Christian H. Fritsen

Josep-Maria Gili

Rolf Gradinger

Johanna Laybourn-Parry

Keith Reid

David W.H. Walton

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the impact of humans on polar regions. Topics covered include the first invasions by humans, the ecology of pre-industrial humans in the Arctic, sealing and whaling, hunting, fishing, pastoral and agriculture development, introduction of non-native organisms by humans, mineral and oil extraction, pollution, tourism, military uses of the polar regions, and conservation.

Keywords:   Arctic, sealing, whaling, hunting, fishing, agriculture development, oil extraction, pollution, tourism, conservation

11.1 The first invasions by humans

Only relatively recently has mankind invaded the areas around the Poles: the Arctic, being nearer centres of population and with a continuous land connection, was the first to be colonized (Hoffecker 2004). Wandering north via the unglaciated lowlands of north-east Siberia and the Beringia Peninsula tribes established themselves at least 20 000 years BP, hunting mammoths, bison, and reindeer (caribou) with stone-tipped spears and moving across the land bridge to North America. This Palaeo-Arctic culture persisted until around 7000 years BP, although around 11 000 years BP as the climate warmed, and melted the ice caps, the land bridge disappeared under the sea. The population was thus fragmented and the groups that remained inhabited the coastal areas, living on sea mammals, muskox, and reindeer (also known as caribou). One group moved to northern Greenland while another moved to the eastern Canadian Arctic, giving rise to the Dorset culture. This latter group developed the building of ice houses (igloos), skin-covered boats (umiaks and kayaks), and an efficient harpoon technology for hunting from the ice.

Exploitation of sea mammals was the key to successful occupation of all the high-Arctic areas. Another wave of migration, probably from the area of east Siberia/west Alaska occurred around 1000 AD, establishing the Thule culture, which extended as far as west Greenland and adapted the Dorset culture techniques to hunting of the bowhead whale. It was around this time that the Thule culture first came into contact with Europeans when Norsemen discovered Greenland and established colonies on its west coast. The Thule culture ended during the sixteenth century, probably through a combination of climatic deterioration, disease, and European whaling activities.

The present-day Inuit are a generally homogenous people of North America and Greenland speaking variants of the same language and clearly demarcated (p.302) from the forest Indians of North America. During the twentieth century their isolation made them especially prone to death from many common diseases, for example measles, carried into their settlements by Europeans. The subsistence hunting culture of the Inuit has always made them especially sensitive to climate changes because of its effects on the key species of seals, whales, and reindeer. Their insecurity is clearly reflected in their religion—Shamanism—which believes that all living creatures have human and animal, spiritual and physical qualities. Meanwhile in Europe several different groups—the Saami in Scandinavia, and the Nganasans, Chuckchi, and other groups in Siberia—have colonized principally the sub-Arctic, using the High Arctic only for summer grazing of their herds. They have evolved both different languages and a migratory culture based mainly on reindeer herding.

In contrast the Antarctic has been protected from invasion by its remoteness and the stormy seas of the Southern Ocean. The first recorded landing south of the Antarctic Polar Front was when Captain James Cook set foot on South Georgia on 17 January 1775. As for the continent itself, the first landing was probably in the Hughes Bay area of the peninsula from the US sealing tender Cecilia, captained by John Davis, in February 1821. It may be that the Polynesians had penetrated into Antarctic waters before this: a Rarotongan legend recounts a voyage into a region of fogs, monstrous seas, and what may have been icebergs, but they evidently did not establish settlements or leave any traces of their visit. Two projectile heads of a type used until 1500 by the Indians of central Chile have been dredged up at King George Island but there is no other evidence supporting such an early visit this far south.

11.2 The ecology of pre-industrial humans in the Arctic

At present there are approximately 150 000 native people living in a variety of environments across the vast Arctic areas that surround the Arctic Ocean (Couzin 2007). This population is considerably in excess of the pre-industrial levels, which may have been less than 100 000, as all the communities had then to be self sufficient, dependent on renewable resources. If food became scarce locally the people moved elsewhere. Mobility required a minimum of possessions since travel was either on foot or sledge on land, or in kayak or umiak on water. The boats, constructed with a frame of driftwood held together with treenails, whalebone lashings or seal sinews, and covered with stretched seal skin coated with boiled seal oil, are a remarkable combination of lightness with robustness. Their construction requires great skill and even an expert might take up to a year to complete one (Arima 1988). Only men were allowed to use kayaks with women restricted to the much larger and open-decked umiak.

To live in the sub-zero temperatures it is essential to have clothing that is windproof and warm, does not trap moisture, and is light and durable. (p.303) Throughout the Arctic reindeer skins offered the warmest material for garments because the hairs were hollow and insulating. The Inuit also understood the principle of layering, wearing an inner skin with the hairs facing inward and an outer skin with the hairs facing outwards. The air space between the two layers insulated the wearer who could regulate air flow with a belt or a hood. Skins from seals, polar bears, and small furbearers were also used, all clothing being sewn together with sinews as thread. Clothing was embroidered and decorated as a celebration of both group or tribal identity and personal declaration.

Whereas summer habitations were tents made from skins, in the winter many groups in the High Arctic lived in snow houses (igloos) constructed from blocks of firn. The snow must be of the right consistency and some experience is needed to get the blocks to spiral inwards evenly. Using dogs to pull sledges is thought to have begun around 7000 years ago, probably in Siberia. Dog sleds allowed people to move around more efficiently in winter. Sledges have been constructed from driftwood, whalebones, and even antlers, with runners made of bone, ivory, or even frozen fish wrapped in skins. Whips and harnesses were made from seal skin and whale skin. Just two or three dogs seem to have been used at first, but the modern way is for up to 10 dogs, often in a fan trace.

The ancient hunters of reindeer in the Eurasian Arctic perhaps numbered no more than 11 000, assuming around 3 million wild reindeer with an annual increase of about 7%. Exploitation of the reindeer required a nomadic existence, following them south in the winter to the protection of the forest tundra and northern taiga. Reindeer grazing on lichens needed to be sustainable so that reindeer numbers also imposed a limit on the human population it could support. With the development of reindeer husbandry people were able to settle in the sub-Arctic, hunting of other animals began as well as fishing, and the human population increased. Norsemen settled on the west coast of Greenland in 986 AD and at the height of its development the colony contained about 3000 people on 2080 farms. The main livelihoods were trade in walrus skins and ivory, and cattle rearing. The settlements persisted until the early fifteenth century and then died out, possibly because of diseases introduced by Europeans or because of a deterioration in climate. The ecological impact of this colonization was small other than in the introduction of around 50 European species to the local flora. Denmark began to colonize Greenland in 1721 the start of over 230 years of Danish colonial rule.

11.3 Sealing and whaling

Humans have headed the list of predators of Arctic seals for several thousand years and hunting in the sea ice for seals developed particularly (p.304) with palaeo-Eskimos, who moved into the north-west Canadian Arctic and western Greenland 2000 years BP and became the present-day Inuit. In winter, hunters moved over the inshore ice by dog sledge and, where the ice was clear, breathing holes were approached with feet muffled in polar bear skin shoes and watched until a seal appeared and could be harpooned.

When snow obscured the holes, dogs were used to sniff them out. Winter sealing was combined with fishing through holes in the ice. In spring, when the seals bask on the ice, a hunter might creep up, lying down to imitate a seal if sighted by his prey. In summer, the sealskin kayak provided a swift and silent means of approach through the pack. Walruses and, especially, ringed seals were taken around Greenland and the Northwest Territories.

Now canoes with outboard motors are used and the seals shot with high-powered rifles. Many thousands of ringed seals are caught each year but the walrus is now protected, apart from small numbers which local populations are allowed to take. The bearded seal is of great importance to coastal natives in Alaska and around the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. In 18 months in 1977–1978 rather more than 8000 were taken around Alaska. In the Bering and Chukchi Sea areas they are caught not only by the natives but by Russian commercial sealers (Sugden 1982 McGhee, in Ives and Sugden 1995).

The taking of seals and small cetaceans for food by local people began in Neolithic times but it was not until the seventeenth century that a commercial whale fishery was established (Tønesson and Johnsen 1982). Willem Barents, who discovered Svalbard in 1596 reported abundant whales in its vicinity and this attracted the attention of Basque fishermen who had been hunting the northern right whale in European waters. Soon English whalers, followed by Dutch and Danish, were operating in the Svalbard area and the interactions (including trading) between the native people and the Europeans intensified (McGhee 2006). The whales were pursued in small boats and harpooned by hand. Catching mainly the bowhead whale and the northern right whale for whale oil used in lamps, only the blubber was utilized. Although many of the ships boiled out the oil on board, Dutch whalers established a whaling station on Svalbard, called Smeerenburg, to process the blubber.

Interestingly William Scoresby Jr, the most successful English whaling captain of the time, had a strong scientific interest in the Arctic and his book on the Arctic regions published in 1820 became one of the foundations for Arctic science. Whales became scarce around Svalbard in the early eighteenth century and whaling shifted to the Davis Strait off the west coast of Greenland. An increasing number of ships with no controls inevitably resulted in over-hunting. The invention of the harpoon gun in (p.305) the mid-nineteenth century followed by the development of steam-powered whale catchers allowed a wider range of species to be caught and hastened the decline in numbers of all the whales until by the end of the century Arctic whaling had become uneconomical. Whalers began looking southwards for new grounds in Antarctic waters.

Seals, and especially the walrus, were taken for blubber and ivory in the early years of commercial whaling in the North Atlantic. However, it was not until whales became scarce that seals were recognized as an economically important part of the total catch. Throughout this period harp, hooded, and bearded seals were taken on a regular basis and in large numbers for their skins by professional sealers.

The northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) was discovered by Pribilof in 1786 with a population estimated at 2.5 million. The skins were highly prized, especially by the Chinese who used the fur to make felt, so Russian and American sealers soon reduced the population to around 300 000 by the early twentieth century. The report by Captain Cook of extensive populations of fur seals in southern waters sounded the death knell for hundreds of thousands in the Southern Ocean. The slaughter that began on South Georgia, lead again by British and American vessels, soon moved southwards to the South Shetland Islands and over several decades almost wiped out both species of fur seal. By 1822 over 1.25 million animals had been killed. Although fur seals were the main target elephant seals were also taken for the oil in their blubber. Sealing continued intermittently throughout the nineteenth century but never again achieved the remarkable returns of the early commercial expeditions. Only a small number of fur seals survived and, from a population of probably a few hundred, began to recover in the mid-twentieth century under protection at South Georgia. The population is now estimated to exceed 4 million, with animals colonizing southwards almost to 70°S. The elephant seals were never reduced to such small numbers and a profitable, controlled annual cull of around 6000 was established on South Georgia (Fig. 11.1) by the Compan˜ia Argentina de Pesca with a scientific management plan to promote sustainability.

The whales that were abundant in the Southern Ocean at the turn of the century were blue and fin. Captain H.A. Larsen, while south with the Swedish South Polar Expedition, recognized a commercial opportunity. With Argentinean finance he established a whaling station at Grytviken on South Georgia in 1904. This flourished and several other companies began operating from South Georgia. The number of whales of all species caught from South Georgian stations rose to over 7000 in 1916.

The early methods wasted much of the carcass and the British Government quickly became concerned that uncontrolled hunting would result in the collapse of the industry. Establishing the Falkland Islands Dependencies in 1908 which included not only South Georgia but also the potentially (p.306)

                   Human impact on polar regions

Fig. 11.1 Whale catchers at Leith Harbour, South Georgia, at the start of the whaling season in 1957 (photograph by W.N. Bonner).

profitable whaling grounds further south towards the Antarctic Peninsula, the government began to regulate the industry (Hart 2006). By controlling the factories it was possible to prohibit the taking of females with calves and insist on fuller utilization of the whole whale. In addition there was concern that not enough was known about the biology of the species so a research programme called the Discovery Investigations began in 1925 into the factors controlling whale abundance.

These measures might have saved the whale stocks if it had not been for the development of factory ships capable of processing the whales at sea, beyond the jurisdiction of the government. The first of these ships began operating in the Southern Ocean in 1925 and by 1930 there were 41 of them. Between 1925 and 1931 the number of whales killed per year rose from 14 219 to 40 207. International concern was manifested by an agreement called the Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which came into effect in 1935 but since only Norway and the UK made any effort to observe its principles it was of little use in slowing the slaughter. In 1938 a whale sanctuary was designated in the area south of 40°S between 70 and 160°W, and complete protection was agreed for the humpback whale, after which the Second World War began and whaling effectively stopped. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established in 1946 to regulate the industry but has failed to live up to expectations. It was systematically undermined by companies that failed to report catch data and by countries, like the Soviet Union, that deliberately provided false data, making it impossible to set scientifically sensible quotas.

As the whale populations continued to spiral downwards most countries eventually found whaling uneconomical and by the 1970s there was little (p.307) active interest except from Japan, Iceland, and Norway. With some species apparently likely to become extinct a major international effort by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the Cousteau Foundation and Greenpeace drove international public sentiment against whaling and allowed the IWC to agree a moratorium on whaling in 1984. Japan was unhappy with this and began to conduct so-called “scientific whaling” under a special clause in the moratorium. This has allowed it to kill a small number of whales each year for supposed scientific studies and then sell the meat for public consumption. With the recovery in stocks of some smaller whales, for instance the minke whale, it is now scientifically possible to undertake limited whaling again, although the majority of IWC countries do not wish to do this for political reasons. Japan is now trying to get the moratorium reversed, with support from a wide range of countries that have no historical interest in whaling but have joined the IWC in recent years for political purposes.

Sealing has suffered a similar fate at the hands of public opinion. The first international agreement for controlling exploitation was the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911. Hunting of other seals has been regulated around the coasts of Britain, Norway, Sweden, USA, and Russia for some time so that none of the culls endangered the populations and in the far north the income generated for the Inuit was a key element of the local economy. However, the NGOs have been adept at exploiting the brutality of the hunting of harp seal pups to generate a backlash against the sale of the fur and the world market has largely collapsed with significant repercussions for the aboriginal people. In the Antarctic a pilot sealing expedition in 1964 from Norway rang alarm bells and led to the development of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, ratified in 1972. The Convention has never had to be used because of the collapse in the market but it does provide a sound basis for conservation and rational use of this resource.

11.4 Hunting

The first human colonizers of the Arctic were hunters and, although they were few in number and operated over an enormous area, their impact on some animals was probably significant. On the American continent fossils show no decline in diversity or territorial range of large mammals until the spread of human invaders began around 11 000 years BP. The extinctions happened suddenly. Similarly, some of the ancient animals of the Eurasian tundra seem to have been exterminated by small numbers of hunters. Some palaeolithic sites in northern Eurasia contain astonishing quantities of the remains of slaughtered animals. More recently the great auk was hunted to extinction (the last reported sighting was in 1852) and today the walrus and muskox are seriously threatened.

(p.308) Whereas the aboriginal people killed animals at a subsistence level the expansion of European exploration led to hunting on a much larger scale. The centuries-old Russian fur trade became a state-supported monopoly and by the end of the seventeenth century operated throughout nearly all of northern Siberia. In Canada the Hudson's Bay Company, granted a charter in 1670 gradually extended its activities across the Northwest Territories and into all the Arctic and sub-Arctic areas, encouraging unregulated slaughter of fur-bearing animals. Steel knives, guns, and patent traps enabled the Inuit to enter into the trade, which greatly reduced the numbers of foxes, but no species was hunted to extinction. Again public sentiment was turned against fur as a fashion accessory and the enactment of conservation legislation and the establishment of reserves have safeguarded the future of these species. More recently demand has developed for trophy hunting, especially of polar bears, which are now closely protected throughout their range in all circumpolar countries. A quota system has now been introduced and a small number can be shot annually on payment of a high licence fee.

11.5 Fishing

Fishing has always been part of the subsistence economy in the Arctic and at that level there was never any threat to stocks. The Arctic seas host a rich and diverse range of fish species, with around 150 species of fish in the Barents, White, and Kara Seas of which the most important are the large numbers of cod, herring, capelin, and salmon. There are as many species in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, which also includes the heavily exploited pollock. In fact the Barents and the Bering Seas are two of the most commercially productive fisheries in the world and the Arctic fisheries together supply a significant part of the world's total fish (Hoel and Viljamsson 2005). The Bering Sea fisheries alone comprise half the US catches. But increasing demand and exhaustion of other stocks, as well as greater accessibility due to sea ice retreat, has allowed commercial fishing to steadily expand northwards. A major expansion took place in the 1950s, the Barents Sea and the coasts of Greenland and Iceland being fished intensively, especially for Atlantic cod. Competition led to the “Cod War” between Britain and Iceland in the 1960s and 1970s after which Iceland adopted the Exclusive Economic Zone principle to keep out foreign vessels. In the last 50 years there have been some spectacular crashes of populations of commercially important species, such as the cod and Atlantic salmon off the coasts of Canada and Greenland and herring in the Norwegian and Icelandic waters. Strict conservation measures including quotas, net mesh sizes, and no-catch zones were put in place. However, even with these, some recovery has been slow and not a certainty. (p.309) Other populations such as the haddock between northern Norway and Svalbard have also seen a gradual but steady decline. The Icelandic fishing ban on Atlantic herring between 1972 and 1975 made a difference, with stocks gradually recovering and now considered to be within safe biological limits. These declining stocks put pressure on the Arctic indigenous people who often depend on fish catches as a key part of their diet. Catches in the North Atlantic reached a plateau around 3.5 million t in 1974 with declining totals since. This may also be important in the decline in seal populations in recent years.

There are major fisheries, dominated by Japan and Russia, for halibut and Alaska pollock in the Bering Sea. Here too there have been impacts on top predators with numbers of guillemots in Norton Sound, Alaska, declining as the pollock are fished out in the areas where the birds spend the winter. The indications are that fish production in the Arctic Ocean is low because of slow growth in near-zero temperatures and heavy predation by birds and marine mammals. There has also been a sport fishery in Canada and Alaska, especially in inland lakes and rivers, for trophy specimens of lake trout, Arctic grayling, Arctic char, and pike. This has been developing over the past few decades as part of a broader tourist initiative that has important economic implications, especially for the more remote regions. More recently there have been projects to develop fish farming of Arctic char off the northern coast of Norway and the establishment of a new fishery for Kamchatka king crab.

The Barents Sea cod fishery is the single most important fishery for Norway, both commercially and in terms of maintaining viable communities along the northern coasts. Since 1976 Norway and the Soviet Union/Russian Federation have managed this fishery bilaterally through the Joint Norwegian-Soviet/Russian Fisheries Commission. Although generally considered to be an example of successful international collaboration, the management regime has met new challenges since the late 1990s: massive over-fishing by Russian vessels, difficulties for Norwegian research vessels in getting access to the Russian economic zone, a tougher stance by the Russians in the Fishery Protection Zone around Svalbard, and pressure from the Russian side to set quotas far above the precautionary reference points. A continuing problem for all the Arctic fisheries that use gill netting is the large numbers of birds that are drowned: over 300 000 a year at present.

In Antarctica fishing got off to a much later start. Commercial exploitation did not begin until the 1960s when the imposition of the 200-nautical-mile (370-km) fishing zones elsewhere caused the redeployment of the distant-water fleets, especially the Soviet ones. The Soviet trawlers and factory ships focused on the area around South Georgia (Agnew 2004). The total annual catch, mostly of Notothenia rossii, rose rapidly to a peak (p.310) of 400 000 t in 1969–1970 before declining rapidly, causing the fleets to move to other sub-Antarctic islands, like Kerguelen, or further south to the South Orkneys and South Shetland islands. Other species were now included with growing catches of ice fish Champsocephalus gunnari and krill Euphausia superba and a number of other countries (Poland, Bulgaria, and German Democratic Republic) competed for stocks.

Krill had been caught experimentally by the Soviets in 1962. It posed difficult problems in terms of processing as its chitinous exoskeleton contains high levels of fluoride, and once caught it must be shelled and frozen within 3 h to stop enzymic degradation of the protein-rich flesh. By 1970 the Soviets had developed processing equipment and began harvesting, followed by the Japanese in 1972. At this stage the emphasis was on krill-based foods and with catch rates of up to 40 t h−1 and an annual catch of 600 000 t international concern was suddenly aroused that uncontrolled exploitation could wreck the entire Southern Ocean food web.

The Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR; www.scar.org) established a major international research programme called Biological Investigation of Marine Antarctic Systems and Stocks (BIOMASS), which provided the scientific basis for international management. Using these data the Antarctic Treaty Parties negotiated the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which came into force in 1984 to manage all marine biological resources on a sustainable ecosystem-wide basis (Hempel 2007). Continued research on krill has shown that there are a variety of other markets for krill products with interests in biochemical products (especially enzymes) and in the chitin from the shell. At present almost all krill is processed for use as a protein supplement, either for cattle food or for fish farms.

The efforts of CCAMLR over the past 20 years have allowed the recovery of some over-fished stocks, controlled legal access to all other fish, squid, and krill stocks, and established a long-term monitoring system to assess the effects of fishing on key components of the food web. The increasing use of baited long-lines to catch fish and squid had profound effects on many Antarctic seabirds. Populations of albatrosses, especially wandering albatross, began to fall dramatically. Observers on the fishing vessels as well as data from satellite tracking of birds showed that they were getting their beaks caught on the hooks when diving for bait as the long-line was let out and being drowned. CCAMLR has found ways of mitigating this unfortunate by-catch within the legal fisheries. However, the growth of the fishery for the very valuable Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) has encouraged the rapid development of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing which now threatens the continuing existence of these long-lived, slow growing fish and is now largely responsible for the present albatross and petrel deaths as by-catch (Fig. 11.2). At least 11 (p.311)

                   Human impact on polar regions

Fig. 11.2 Development of South Georgia toothfish fishery. From Agnew (2004).

countries are involved in this IUU activity, which now accounts for half of all the toothfish sold worldwide. CCAMLR methods to counter this include satellite tracking of fishing vessels and catch certification at the port of landing.

11.6 Pastoral and agriculture development

The pastoral way of life in the sub-Arctic centres on the reindeer and is essentially a European development. In Eurasia hunting of the wild animals changed into husbandry as the societies developed. Initially Arctic peoples probably used their herded reindeer for transport, for raw materials, and for food. The change in human–animal relationships inherent in this meant that now pastoralists were protecting the animals from predators, ownership of the animals changed the structure of their previously egalitarian society, and the eventual development of commercial trading in skins and meat forced economic stratification as some herders became much richer than others (Ingold 1980).

Until the middle of the twentieth century the Lapps followed traditional patterns; during the summer entire families lived with their herds in the tundra and then migrated south for the winter. Now reindeer herding is motorized using skidoos, motorcycles, jeeps, boats, and even helicopters. (p.312) In the Russian Arctic there are now around 2.5 million domesticated reindeer as against 600 000 wild animals. The latter occupy marginal terrain that will not support the densities of the domesticated herds without permanent damage. The explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Ukraine had a serious effect on Scandinavian reindeer herds. Fallout clouds carried large amounts of the radioactive isotope 137Cs with a half-life of around 30 years. This was absorbed by the vegetation and accumulated in the reindeer, especially those herds in central Sweden and Norway, making the meat dangerous to eat. Large numbers of reindeer were slaughtered and buried in both countries and, although the governments paid compensation, the Saami cultural system was changed by a break in its traditional practices. Contamination of some pastures continues to be a problem today.

In North America the Inuit hunted wild reindeer in summer and the Indians hunted them in winter. The introduction of guns made hunting much easier and had a dramatic effect on the reindeer with numbers falling from 1.75 million in 1900 to around 200 000 in 1950. In contrast reindeer husbandry was founded on stock imported from Chukotka in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, using Saami herders to demonstrate the techniques in use then. Herding was seen both in the Northwest Territories and in Alaska as a suitable occupation for the Inuit and one with commercial potential. However, the stocking was too high and in the 1940s and 1950s herd numbers crashed as poor management allowed serious overgrazing. In the post-war period management has followed the pattern in Eurasia and become mechanized but in Alaska, in contrast to everywhere else, the majority of reindeer keepers are not now indigenous people.

Arctic agriculture is a small activity in global terms, although some nations, such as Iceland, produce more than enough meat and dairy products to sustain their populations. The emphasis is on cool-season forage crops, cool-season vegetables, small grains, and some raising of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry. In some townships there are horticultural facilities to produce vegetables but at high energy cost. While agriculture is limited by climate principally to the Low Arctic and sub-Arctic, it is also limited by the lack of infrastructure, small population base, remoteness from markets, and land-ownership issues.

The Arctic now offers an important service to agriculture in the rest of the world through the establishment on Svalbard of an international seed bank for crop species. This underground rock vault is meant to be a resource of last resort and uses the permafrost to keep the seeds frozen. More than 100 nations have endorsed its construction and many are already making arrangements both to fund its endowment and to contribute seeds from the estimated 2 million crop varieties currently used.


                   Human impact on polar regions

Fig. 11.3 Boreal forest in Alaska where melting permafrost is undermining the stability of many trees (photograph by David W.H. Walton).

The most important biological resource from an economic point of view is forestry. The boreal forest, stretching from the Bering Straits through Canada, Northern Europe, and Siberia to the coast of Kamchatka, is the world's second largest terrestrial biome (Fig. 11.3). Understanding this habitat for sustainable long-term management must be a priority for research (Chapin et al. 2006). Commercial forestry has already fragmented and depleted the boreal forests in northern Arctic Russia and northern Scandinavia and Finland. The increase in the harvesting of timber for pulp, paper, and wood products is eliminating the remaining biodiversity of these once thriving systems. In the middle of the twentieth century the wood-processing industry began to devastate large tracts of Arctic forest with clear cutting, leaving only limited areas of virgin forest. The harsh climate slows natural regeneration and so much of the present reforestation uses non-endemic tree species.

The prognosis for the future of the remaining Arctic forests is mixed. The most important international agreements so far have developed from the UNCED Meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Initiatives under the Convention for Biological Diversity and Agenda 21 coupled with the UN Forum on Forests should have produced major change by now but heavy government lobbying has made international obstruction the name of the game. The most hopeful developments appear to be private initiatives on forest stewardship and sustainable forest initiatives. In some commercial forestry areas, new and innovative management regimes are being (p.314) implemented to allow sustainable exploitation of the natural forest systems. Areas in north Sweden and Finland have been given national park or nature reserve status to protect against deforestation. As yet this has not been duplicated in Norway, or the Russian Federation. In these countries, as in Canada and other areas of the Arctic, commercial forestry and infrastructure development continue in their move northwards, extending the area of habitat fragmentation.

11.7 Introduction of non-native organisms by humans

The journeys of humans around the world have been accompanied by both the intentional and unintentional spread of non-native organisms. Of course, natural dispersal of organisms has always occurred, even across vast expanses of sea, but humans have provided a wealth of new opportunities for the spread of plants, animals, and microorganisms, sometimes with devastating results.

11.7.1 The Arctic

Introductions into the Arctic have been more extensive and have occurred over a much longer period than in the Antarctic. However, for both geographic and ethnographic reasons they are unevenly distributed about the Pole. In North America and Greenland the Inuit, hunters travelling light, took little with them although they must have transported a range of microorganisms and seeds from some of the plants. The people going to the North Atlantic islands were Europeans and carried both agricultural species and most certainly a range of fellow travellers of which they were not aware. In Greenland the Norse farmers provided a range of new immigrant plant species, some of which survived and spread after the settlements died out. Greenland now has at least 86 established introduced plant species compared to 427 native species, whereas in Alaska there are 144 compared to 1229 native species (Vitousek et al. 1997).

The Eurasian Arctic peoples, having a direct land connection further south, have brought about more introductions. The Chukchi in Siberia have used a variety of plants in their diet and dunghills around their campsites support many species otherwise absent from those localities. Disturbance of the native vegetation can also demonstrate the hidden presence of non-native species. After ploughing of hayfields at Noril'sk (69°21′N, 88°02′E) 19 species of plants appeared, some hundreds to thousands of kilometres away from their native habitats. Some weedy species show remarkable acclimatization potential and species like groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), pinapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides), and annual meadow grass (Poa annua) have been found both within native vegetation and also on disturbed areas where competition is much less.

(p.315) There are a range of invertebrate introductions associated with man. Some, for example the house fly (Musca domestica) are found only in human company whereas others, such as the carrion flies Protophormia terranovae and Cynomyia mortuorum, are widely distributed throughout the Arctic wherever human refuse is found. Among birds it is more difficult to be certain which species have been unnaturally introduced but it would appear that sparrows, starlings, and swallows, all of which are associated with settlements, are probably contenders. Rats and house mice do not seem to be established in the Arctic (Chernov 1985) outside some urban areas.

11.7.2 The Antarctic

The sub-Antarctic islands that lie around the Antarctic continent have suffered considerably from introduced species. Initially sealers and whalers brought the species accidentally but there were also later attempts to introduce species for food. The diversity of the native flowering plants is not high on any of the islands so the fact that more than 17 alien species are established on South Georgia with only 25 native species is very worrying. Rabbits, cats, pigs, sheep, horses, cattle, reindeer, goats, mouflon, geese, and even trout have been deliberately introduced to these islands, and there are also rats and mice on several islands.

Only Heard and Macdonald Islands remain free of alien animals. Some species such as geese and horses did not persist but cats, rats, rabbits, and reindeer have had dramatic effects on the bird and plant species on many islands. On Kerguelen the rabbits have grazed much of the native vegetation down to the roots, changing the colour of the islands from green to brown. The rabbits on Macquarie Island are undermining the peaty soil, causing landslips, and endangering the survival of the megaherbs. On South Georgia overgrazing by the reindeer herds threatens the long-term future of much of the native vegetation on the north side of the island while rats prey on the eggs and young of most of the smaller birds. On some islands the alien mammals are managed as a fresh food resource, with the French keeping sheep and reindeer on Kerguelen and cattle on Amsterdam Island for meat. The trout persist on Kerguelen with apparently little impact on the local freshwater systems.

Control measures are being undertaken successfully with the eradication of feral cats from Marion Island, cattle and sheep from Campbell, cattle and rabbits from Enderby, goats from Auckland Islands, and rats from St Paul and Campbell Islands, and there are trials for rat eradication at Kerguelen and South Georgia.

The situation with both plants and increasingly with introduced invertebrates is worrying. With marked glacial recession on many of the islands and a general warming of the sub-Antarctic climate introduced species are (p.316) spreading. Several of the plant species (Poa annua, Sagina procumbens) are aggressive colonizers and can outcompete the native vegetation, establishing themselves in both disturbed areas and in natural vegetation. P. annua is especially good at adapting to grazing and so spreads quickly on those islands with introduced herbivores. More recently an increasing range of introduced invertebrates have been identified, many of which are spreading steadily across the islands, often eating their competitors.

On the Antarctic continent and the associated Maritime Antarctic islands there is considerable concern about the possibility of introduced species establishing as a direct result of the increase in tourism. So far there is little evidence that this is a real problem (Frenot et al. 2005). Prior to the Antarctic Treaty there were various minor attempts to grow vegetables or keep chickens at Antarctic stations but none of them were successful. Small patches of alien grasses (P. annua, Poa pratensis, Poa trivialis) have established at various times at Deception Island and near Syowa Station and have flowered but grow very slowly. There were sledge dogs present at several stations throughout the continent until their enforced removal in 1994 but they had no measurable impact on the native flora and fauna. Growth trials at Signy Island of species from South Georgia have left a legacy of two introduced species associated with the trials area: an enchytraeid worm and a chironomid midge (Eretmoptera murphyi). Although the flora of the continent is now quite well established the microbial flora is largely unknown so that the conservation of microbial ecosystems is virtually impossible with no baseline against which to measure introductions. An attempt has been made to limit inadvertent introductions to some geothermal areas with especially interesting microbial communities by declaring them Antarctic Specially Protected Areas and requiring that those entering them wear sterile outer garments and use sterilized equipment.

11.8 Mineral and oil extraction

Exploration of the polar regions was originally for fame, personal gain, and the hope that there would be valuable mineral deposits. Even as late as the 1950s many scientists still believed that the polar regions were there to be developed in some way, with little thought of environmental damage or the concept of stewardship. This has certainly changed dramatically for the Antarctic but there are still powerful economic and political drivers for mining the Arctic.

Mining began in Greenland in 1854 for cryolite at Ivittuut at 61°N and the mine closed in 1987 after producing 3.7 million t of ore. Lead and zinc were discovered at Marmorilik during quarrying for marble but mining did not begin until 1973. This was the Black Angel Mine, which remained profitable until 1990. Various other mines were established for copper, graphite, and (p.317) silver but most were on a small scale and proved unprofitable. There is now interest in developing a gold mine at Nalunak. Other companies are prospecting for diamonds and other gem material while the Greenland Government is promoting investigation of possible hydrocarbon reserves in West Greenland.

This is small scale compared with industrial developments elsewhere in the Arctic (Walton, in Ives and Sugden 1995). Economics should apparently determine which mining is undertaken but political decisions on sovereignty or self-sufficiency have at times encouraged wholly uneconomic and damaging activities, for example in Svalbard where Norway and Russia have been mining coal for many decades (Fig. 11.4). In many cases there is often little economic benefit for the local people from the mining development and every possibility that it will adversely disrupt the local ecosystem on which people may depend for food. An exception is the Red Dog Mine north of Kotzebue, the largest zinc mine in the world, which is owned by the native people. Mines in the Canadian territories include major lead and zinc mines in the High Arctic as well as gold and diamond mines. In Sweden there are very large iron-ore mines and in the Kola Peninsula the Russians mine nickel, copper, platinum, and iron. All this activity generates significant impacts on the environment, not only from the mine itself but from the effects of waste and toxic tailings on rivers and ground water, from the fumes from smelters, from the infrastructure of roads and ports needed to support the mines and from the abandonment of the sites when uneconomic. Clearly, large-scale mineral

                   Human impact on polar regions

Fig. 11.4 Community of Barentsberg on Svalbard (approximately 500 inhabitants) that was established mainly because of coal mining (photograph by David N. Thomas).

(p.318) extraction has created a strong need for regulations and impact analysis. Thoughtful management and utilization of mineral resources is imperative so that environmental impacts may be kept at a minimum but not all Arctic governments apparently accept this.

The extensive oilfield at Prudhoe Bay (70°N) on the Arctic Slope of Alaska was discovered in 1968 and began production in less than a decade. The engineering associated with the drilling and extraction was difficult, with much equipment having to be delivered to the sites in winter to avoid damaging the tundra, but to transport the oil to the tankers a pipeline 1289 km long had to be built across Alaska to the port at Valdez. At a cost of US$7.7 billion dollars for pipeline and terminal this was the most expensive civil-engineering project the world had seen (Fig. 11.5). The oil had to be transported warm to make it flow through the pipe, and so to avoid damaging the permafrost the pipe had to be heavily insulated and raised above the ground. To avoid heat conduction through the supporting columns a novel ammonia-based self-regulating refrigeration system was devised. Indeed the environmental regulations surrounding the building of the pipeline and the oil installations made the engineering much more difficult and expensive yet went a long way to protecting this wilderness area. Roads across the tundra and pads under buildings were made of gravel 1.5 m thick to prevent melting of the permafrost, and to allow the reindeer to migrate sections of refrigerated pipeline were buried underground. The reindeer did at first make use of these passing points but once the wolves learnt about them they were rapidly deserted and animals now pass under the pipe anywhere except at the points arranged for them. The political battle over oil extraction from the Arctic National Wildlife

                   Human impact on polar regions

Fig. 11.5 The Aleyaska Trans-Alaska Pipeline from Prudhoe Bay on North Slope down to Valdez on Prince William Sound (photograph by David W.H. Walton).

(p.319) Refuge continues but the promises from the oil industry of minimal environmental damage are not convincing in the light of the damage already caused in the Arctic.

There are many other oil- and gas-production sites across the Arctic and for some new sites advanced technology using ice roads and ice pads instead of gravel for exploration, three-dimensional imaging of the oil field for better extraction, and directional drilling systems allows greater oil recovery with fewer holes. The extent of the onshore and offshore reserves in Russia, which stretch from the Caucasus to the Pacific, make it certain that Arctic Russia will be a dominant player in future energy supply (Krajick 2007).

The story of the future energy industry in the Arctic is likely however, to be a tale of Russian gas, according to a recent study that found that 80% of the overall hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic are gas, and 69% is specifically Russian natural gas. Subsea technology, which can operate underneath pack ice, will be the key to the economic development of much of this gas while delivery by pipeline from the Yamal Peninsula, over 4000 km from Western Europe, will be a huge challenge. In Canada and Alaska there are trials to extract gas from deposits of gas hydrates which are crystalline solids containing gas molecules, usually methane, each surrounded by a cage of water molecules. It looks very much like water ice and there appears to be immense quantities of it, both in the Arctic and elsewhere, trapped in deep sediments.

It has proved impossible to extract oil anywhere in the world without spilling some of it. In the Arctic these spills can be onshore or offshore and both can have catastrophic and long-lasting effects. There are, for example, 55 major contaminated sites on North Slope with hundreds of old exploration drilling sites with their waste pits that have yet to be cleaned up and restored. With roughly one spill a day there is a considerable area of contaminated land around Prudhoe Bay. In Siberia the situation is much worse, with lax regulation, old pipelines, and poor maintenance, and huge areas of tundra contaminated by spills from broken pipes and leaking valves and little effort being made to clean them up. Not only have they seriously damaged huge areas of tundra vegetation but oil has also leaked into ground water and rivers, to carry the contamination much further afield.

The most serious marine oil spill was in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in March 1989 when the fully loaded 300-m tanker Exxon Valdez ran on to a rock. The size of the resultant spill is still disputed but it must have exceeded 30 million l of crude oil. The slick covered 2500 km2 of the sub-Arctic Sound, an area of exceptional ecological concern where the oil terminal had been built despite the original objections of environmentalists. The response to the spill was disorganized and decisions were delayed. (p.320) There was no plan or equipment to deal with a spill this large and the treatment of the shoreline with high-pressure hot-water hoses seems likely to have exacerbated the original damage to birds, fish, otters, and the benthic fauna. Exxon spent US$2 billion cleaning up the area and a further $1 billion settling civil claims for damages, mainly from those whose livelihoods had been ruined. Both the long- and short-term effects of the oil spill have been studied comprehensively. Thousands of animals died immediately; the best estimates include 250 000 seabirds, 2800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 orcas, and billions of salmon and herring eggs. Little visual evidence of the event remained in most areas just 1 year later, but the effects of the spill continue to be felt today. In the long term, reductions in population have been seen in various ocean animals, including stunted growth in pink salmon populations. Sea otters and ducks also showed higher death rates in following years, partly because they ingested contaminated creatures. The animals also were exposed to oil when they dug up their prey in dirty soil. Some shoreline habitats, such as contaminated mussel beds, could take up to 30 years to recover.

In 1988 the Antarctic Treaty parties had agreed a Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resources Activities which might have provided the basis for an eventual mining industry. The environmental groups disliked this greatly and their international campaign to kill the Convention succeeded when several countries refused to ratify it. Now mineral resource development and the extraction of hydrocarbons is completely banned for 50 years under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. Since almost all of the land is under ice and the two main marine sedimentary basins are covered by ice it has been difficult to estimate the distribution and extent of any mineral or energy resources. Analogies have been drawn with other parts of Gondwana and on this basis it is expected that there are possibly significant deposits of minerals like gold, platinum, copper, and lead. Traces of oil and gas have also been found during drilling. The only large mineral deposits above the ice are of coal and iron ore. Whatever we might evetually want to extract from the Antarctic will come at immense financial cost and is only likely to be economic when most of the reserves elsewhere in the world are exhausted.

11.9 Pollution

Pollution is a feature of human activities everywhere in the world and the polar regions, although remote, provide object lessons in our damaging effects at the local, regional and global levels. The Arctic was essentially unpolluted when only occupied by its aboriginal people. As industrialization began in Europe and North America and explorers began to move (p.321) northwards and establish new settlements pollution became a growing problem. Access points to the Arctic are limited and so for some pollutants these increase the impacts.

Much of the Arctic pollution is generated elsewhere and carried northwards by the atmosphere, by migrating animals, or by water. For example, contaminated waste water produced from the nuclear fuel reprocessing plants in the UK (Sellafield) and in France (Cap de la Hague) is continually moved northwards to the Arctic (Fig. 11.6). Atmospheric pollutants generated by industry and urban centres to the south are carried up into the Arctic to join those generated by the northern mining and hydrocarbon industries. Rivers flowing north to the Arctic Ocean are a major artery for pollutants collected from forestry, agriculture, and industry hundreds of kilometres south as well as oil spills within the Arctic. Pesticides and other persistent organic pollutants are ingested by birds and other migratory animals in the more temperate areas and carried north in the summer. A visible sign of this atmospheric pollution, especially in winter, is Arctic haze that can reduce incident solar radiation by as much as 15%. Arctic haze is mostly composed of particles of sulphuric acid and organic compounds formed in the air from the combination of naturally occurring chemicals and pollutant sulphur dioxide or hydrocarbon gases and originates. Called aerosols, these resultant particles are small enough to float in the air but are large enough to reflect sunlight, and hence cause a haze (Law and Stohl 2007).

                   Human impact on polar regions

Fig. 11.6 Transport of radionuclide-contaminated water to the Arctic from nuclear fuel reprocessing plants in the UK and France. Courtesy of Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) 2000 from Arctic Pollution Issues: A State of the Arctic Environment Report.

(p.322) The accumulation of persistent organic pollutants through the food chain is a serious health problem in the Arctic where the indigenous people use a variety of species for food. The circumpolar nations became so concerned about the effects on humans by pollutants that they established the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) to collect together both baseline data and trends for a wide range of chemical compounds. This has shown that organochlorine pesticides (aldrin, chlordane, deildrin, DDT, etc.) and industrial chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and furans are accumulating in seals, polar bears, fish, and birds while PCBs are also accumulating in the Inuit with a high intake of traditional foods. This latter is of particular concern as these compounds can be transferred via breast milk and are believed to have their most significant impacts in the pre-natal and early childhood periods. At Broughton Island Inuit mothers eating fish were found to have 47 times the normal levels of PCBs in their breast milk.

Some of the heavy metals also give cause for concern. AMAP has been surveying levels of cadmium, lead, selenium, and mercury but in some areas of industrial activity there are also elevated levels of nickel. A unique combination of photochemical activity involving bromine and ozone leads to enhanced mercury deposition in the Arctic after polar sunrise, providing two to four times the normal dosage of this toxic metal that then accumulates in the food chain (AMAP 2002).

High in the atmosphere at both ends of the world ozone continues to be destroyed by the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) still present. Despite the phasing out of their use and the substitution of less-damaging compounds for refrigeration, foam blowing, and aerosol sprays under the Montreal Protocol, there is still a long way to go before the upper atmosphere returns to its previous ozone concentrations. Although the Arctic ozone hole is not at present as persistent and widespread a feature as the one over the Antarctic this could change in the future, possibly exposing hundreds of millions of people in the northern hemisphere to elevated levels of ultraviolet radiation. A new complication has been demonstrated by recent work that has shown that polar stratospheric clouds accelerate ozone destruction and the formation of these clouds is accelerated by the greenhouse-gas warming of the Earth's surface. The recent international assessment of the effects of climate change in the Arctic (Arctic Climate Impact Assessment 2005) has provided the most comprehensive review so far of the way in which global change will increasingly impact on all aspects of the Arctic environment and the people who live there.

The Antarctic has no industries and is a long way from the major centres of population. Although there is some very localized pollution close to major scientific stations, the Antarctic pollutants are principally global pollutants transported there by the atmosphere, the sea, and animals. It (p.323) therefore provides an ideal location for measuring the baseline levels of global pollution. Persistent organic pollutants have been found in penguins and seals, showing the worldwide distribution of these long-lasting chemicals. Ice cores have provided not only the information on past climates but detailed patterns of global pollution. The changes in global lead levels has been convincingly measured in ice cores with an upwards trend after the Industrial Revolution peaking with the addition of lead to gasoline and then a slow decline after it was withdrawn. It is also possible to detect the fallout from atomic bomb tests in the ice cores.

11.10 Tourism

These days tourism encompasses the whole world, including the polar regions (Hall and Johnston 1995). The Arctic was an early centre of attraction for adventurous visitors with small expeditions aboard steamers and private yachts visiting Alaska and Svalbard in the mid-nineteenth century. As more steamers became available more remote destinations like the Aleutian Islands became possible and now virtually all of the Arctic is open to tourists. Tourist development in the Arctic initially sold itself on its remoteness, an experience of raw and pristine nature. These days it has diversified with specialized adventure tourism (for example skiing across Iceland or Greenland), wildlife and ornithological tours, sport fishing and hunting, dog driving, historical tours of the old Gold Rush areas, and even visits to Santa Claus in Finland, Greenland, or Alaska! The tourist may now arrive by aircraft, by ship, or even by road, especially these days by camper vans and recreational vehicles. As long ago as 1896 there was a hotel on Svalbard catering for tourists and now there are a wide range of facilities across the Arctic as governments have realised that tourism is an important part of the Arctic economy.

Svalbard has been popular as a cruise-ship destination for over 100 years with now over 20 000 visitors coming that way each year. The development of hotels at Longyearbyen and a large number of small companies catering specifically for tourists has pushed the number of bed-nights there to over 20 000 a year. A great deal of tourism, especially that on cruise ships, has limited impact on the environment but it also has limited benefits for the local economy. There is now a growing interest among indigenous communities in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland in closer participation in tourism projects, both to control their impacts and to reap the economic benefits.

In the Antarctic tourism was a comparatively recent development. Although there was some small-scale visits on board Argentine and Chilean government vessels in the late 1950s to the Antarctic Peninsula it was not until (p.324) Lars-Eric Linblad built the Linblad Explorer in the late 1960s that a market in luxury cruises, with both a taste of adventure and expert lecturers, began to develop.

Growing from a few hundred in 1969 to 8700 in 1992 the total number of tourists landed has now increased to almost 27 000 in 2006–2007 season. The ship-based activities now use over 180 sites in most seasons, many of which are only visited once or twice. There are a small number of key sites which attract most of the tour companies and these are all on or near to the Antarctic Peninsula: Whalers Bay on Deception Island, Port Lockroy on Goudier Island (Fig. 11.7), Half Moon Island, Neko Harbour and Dorian Bay, Cuverville Island, and Petermann Island. The majority of the cruises concentrate on South Georgia, the Peninsula, and its associated islands but there are some that visit the sub-Antarctic islands, others that penetrate the Ross Sea to visit the huts of Scott and Shackleton, and every 2 or 3 years there is a cruise aboard a Russian icebreaker that circumnavigates the whole continent.

Antarctic visits are concentrated mainly at ice-free coastal zones over the 5-month period from November to March. Visits ashore are generally of short duration (approx. 3 h), of moderate intensity (fewer than 100 people), and of variable frequency (Fig. 11.8). Typically there are one to three landings per day. Landings are made using Zodiacs (rubber inflatable crafts) or, in the case of Russian icebreakers, by helicopter. Shipboard staff supervise shore visits, with one staff member for each 10–20 passengers. Such staff generally include ornithologists, biologists, geologists, glaciologists, historians, and naturalists. Environmental impact assessments prepared

                   Human impact on polar regions

Fig. 11.7 Over 10 000 Antarctic ship-based tourists visit the restored British station at Port Lockroy each summer (photograph by David W.H. Walton).

                   Human impact on polar regions

Fig. 11.8 Tourists photographing walruses from Zodiacs off the coast of Svalbard in the Arctic. The rule that wildlife should not be approached is being closely observed (photograph by Rupert Krapp).

by all International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) members are provided to relevant Antarctic Treaty Parties in advance of each season.

A considerable range of nationalities are represented among the passengers but the most frequent are Americans, British, Germans, Australians, Canadians, and Dutch. The trade association—IAATO, formed in 1991—provides a good example of environmental stewardship in a commercial environment with the companies well aware that many of their passengers are environmentally concerned and expect the highest standards of behaviour. The 80 members in 14 countries currently use around 40 ships for each summer season, many of them also employed during the other half of the year on Arctic cruising. There is also limited land-based tourism run mainly from a summer camp organized by Adventure Network International at the blue-ice runway at Patriot Hills. From here people can climb Mt Vinson (78°2′S 22°00′W), the highest peak in the Antarctic, or ski to the South Pole. Other activities by visitors to Antarctica now include kayaking and scuba diving from tourist vessels. Not all companies belong to IAATO as its guidelines are seen by some as too commercially inhibiting.

Most of the tourist activity is still concentrated in the Antarctic Peninsula region, but the operators are becoming more adventurous, and the customers willing to pay for more: trips to inland sites are on the increase and over time will become more affordable. To manage environmental impacts, the Antarctic Treaty signatories have recently implemented a scheme for (p.326) site guidelines to encourage sustainable management of the most heavily visited sites. In addition where tourism, logistics and science conflict Antarctic Specially Managed Areas (ASMAs) can be designated. With areas at Deception Island, the Dry Valleys and Admiralty Bay already agreed these offer new opportunities for collaborative management. There can be no doubt that tourism in the Antarctic is a positive thing provided it is done in a way that is ecologically sustainable and socially responsible.

The first sightseeing tourist aircraft flew over the Antarctic Peninsula in 1956 and there were irregular flights in later years. There are now flights from Chile every summer out of Punta Arenas and, on the other side of the continent, there are Quantas overflights from Australia. From 1976 to 1979 there were also overflights by Air New Zealand but these ceased after a DC-10 crashed into Mt Erebus, killing all 257 passengers and crew.

Overflights have a minimal impact on the Antarctic environment but the potential for environmental damage from cruise ships is greater. There have so far only been two vessels (Bahia Paraiso in 1989 and the MS Explorer in 2007) wrecked while carrying tourists but the possibility of a tourist ship running aground in these poorly charted waters is of great concern to the Treaty Parties. Not only is there the likelihood of loss of life if the ship sinks but considerable potential for ecosystem damage from the loss of fuel oil. Environmentalists also have concerns about the impacts of the numbers of tourists on the wildlife. Some research on this has been undertaken over the past 10 years, on both vegetation and penguins. An early study on an Adélie penguin rookery at Cape Royds showed that regular visits by helicopters resulted in declining numbers of penguins, and this reversed when helicopters were banned. But monitoring for changes in penguin numbers at some of the most heavily visited Peninsula sites has provided contrasting data. At Port Lockroy penguin numbers have increased alongside visitor numbers, despite the fact that the old station is situated in the middle of the rookery and disturbance of individual birds by visitors is inevitable. A second study, comparing penguin numbers at a tourist site and an unvisited control site nearby, apparently showed a decline at the unvisited site, initially suggesting that visitors were good for penguins. In reality the explanation for the decline lay with differences in snow-lie on the breeding sites and this has highlighted the difficulty in measuring effects that are only attributable to the visitors.

11.11 Military uses of the polar regions

Until fairly recently the Arctic was of major strategic military significance and it is only since the fall of the Soviet Union that it has been considered possible to start demolishing some of the extensive military installations scattered around the Arctic. Chief among these were the American Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line stations, established in Alaska, Canada, and (p.327) Greenland to provide early warning of a missile attack from the Soviet Union. The chain of 63 radar and communication stations stretched over 4800 km inside the Arctic Circle and was built in less than 3 years, coming into use in 1957. At the time this was probably the most expensive military development in the world. A major part of the system has been upgraded in the last 20 years and is still in use as the North Warning System in Alaska and Canada. To support the stations there were airfield and road developments and extensive training of troops from both the West and the East in Arctic warfare.

From around 1954 the former USSR used the archipelago Novaya Zemla for nuclear weapons testing. Over 220 atomic weapons were exploded there, most but not all below ground with the last explosion as recently as 1990. In the nearby Kara Sea Russia has apparently dumped old nuclear reactors from submarines as well as radioactive waste from civilian and military nuclear reactors. Although the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that releases are at present low and localized there are clearly major long-term implications.

As part of military activities by both the Soviet Union and the USA there were frequent submarine patrols under the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean. Data collected over many years on ice thickness above the submarines are now proving useful in assessing the rate of warming of the polar seas.

In the Antarctic, while there were some naval skirmishes in the 1950s between the UK, Argentina, and Chile the Antarctic Treaty has stopped all military activities on the continent, although it does allow the use of military resources, like ships and planes, to support scientific activities. The provision in the Treaty for access and inspection of any site was specifically included to ensure that no military infrastructure could be put in place by any country.

11.12 Conservation

Conservation means different things to different people but here it will be taken as the wise use of resources, in keeping with the concept of environmental stewardship. Management for conservation needs to be based on sound science but also needs to have regard to social and cultural values. In reality conservation policy is also driven by economics, politics, and expediency, which means that sensible objectives are often unexpectedly difficult to achieve. Approaches to conservation differ between the polar regions.

11.12.1 The influence of politics on conservation in the polar regions

Ownership of the Arctic territories has been settled for a century with every portion of land north of the Arctic Circle allocated to one of eight (p.328) nations: Canada, USA, Iceland, Denmark/Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Each country uses its land as it sees fit and legislates for resource management in different ways. Offshore the situation is slightly different with several points of conflict. There is a continuing dispute between the USA and Canada about the status of the waters between Canada's Arctic islands, with the USA declaring international rights for passage and Canada declaring them national waters under the control of the federal government. Most recently a dispute, begun in 1973 between Canada and Denmark over the ownership of Hans Island (1.3 km2 in area) in Nares Strait, has re-opened with the argument being seen as an important determinant over control of offshore resources around the island. While Svalbard is governed by Norway under the 1920 Treaty of Svalbard all the other signatories to the Treaty have certain reserved rights that Russia, for example, chose to exercise by mining for coal. The discovery and proposed exploitation by Norway of newly discovered oil and gas fields offshore from Svalbard has precipitated arguments as Norway claims that the Treaty does not cover continental shelf resources which are exclusively Norwegian while other signatories insist that they should be treated in the same way as land resources. At stake are a great deal of valuable energy reserves and their control.

Comparisons between the laws relating to environmental management in the circumpolar countries show quite different governance systems. Despite the so-called democratization of Russia it is still the federal government in Moscow rather than the regional or local government that determines resource development and environmental management in Siberia. The local people have little say in decision-making, unlike the situation in parts of Canada (Nunavut) and Greenland where the native people have taken over control of the government. In Alaska both state and federal governments are closely involved in conservation and resource management and in Iceland and the Scandinavian countries there are democratic systems of control and oversight. There has been little general cross-border agreement although there were specific agreements to deal with reindeer herding, polar bears, and with joint management of fisheries in the Barents Sea. The need for a more cooperative approach emerged in the 1980s and environmental issues were seen as the first step. The adoption of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy in 1991 by all eight countries allowed the development of the Arctic Council in 1996 a regional forum for sustainable development, mandated to address any environmental, social, and economic questions important for the Arctic as a whole. This, in turn, established several groups—Conservation of the Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment, Sustainable Development Working Group, and AMAP—that now provide forums for both gathering scientific data and discussing its policy implications. The Council is further assisted by the International Arctic Science Committe, (p.329) a body analogous to the SCAR, which provides independent scientific advice on topical problems.

Many people remember that there have been various claims to part of the Antarctic. First, in 1908 Britain claimed a sector slice between 20 and 80°W in order to legalize its regulation of whaling. Further claims followed with Chile and Argentina counter-claiming much of the same territory as Britain and most of the remainder of the Antarctic being claimed by Norway, Australia, New Zealand, and France almost always on the grounds of discovery by the early explorers. Despite having similar grounds for a claim the USA refused to claim or recognize claims of others, an approach also followed by the Soviet Union. In the early 1950s naval activities around the Peninsula by Argentina, Chile, and the UK heightened the tension but this was defused by the agreement to collaborate for the International Geophysical Year of 1957–1958. Apart from being scientifically successful this demonstrated that nations of opposing views could collaborate effectively in the pursuit of a common purpose in a hostile environment. Pressure from the scientists to build on these achievements allowed negotiation of the Antarctic Treaty. Putting claims of sovereignty aside and dedicating the region to peace and science, it was signed in 1959 and ratified in 1961 by all 12 nations then active in the Antarctic (Fogg 1992). Since then more countries have joined the Treaty and with 45 countries now signatories the Treaty represents over 70% of the global population. The ratification of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty established a new advisory group, the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP), which now provides the forum for the discussion of all conservation and environmental management issues. All decisions at the Treaty are by consensus and are legally binding on citizens of each of the parties when passed into national law. The SCAR provides independent scientific advice to the CEP as does the Council of Managers for National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP) on logistic matters.

Nationalism has not gone away despite the provisions in the Treaty. Argentina and Chile have both established settlements in their claimed areas, issuing birth certificates and passports to their “Antarctic citizens” whereas Australia has registered a claim with UNCLOS for future rights over the exploitation of the mineral rights on the continental shelf of Australian Antarctic Territory. Issuing stamps is seen as a governance act and here Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and France all issue special Antarctic stamps whereas the USA, Russia, Argentina, Chile, and many other countries use their normal stamps with an Antarctic cancel.

Various NGOs (and especially members of the Atlantic Southern Ocean Coalition, ASOC) have for many years promoted the suggestion that the Treaty is an exclusive club and the Antarctic would be better governed (p.330) as a World Park under the United Nations. This would seem a very poor move and certain to result in total paralysis of Antarctic governance as uninformed political agendas ran out of control. If science is to be the main business of the Antarctic, and if sustainable management is to be achieved, those countries with the most direct interest and experience are those most likely to understand the problems and come to practical solutions. The Treaty Parties already represent the majority of the world's population and have demonstrated their commitment and concern for the continent over the last 50 years. The present system is not without its flaws but overall works well.

11.12.2 The Arctic

There are many books and papers on Arctic conservation but the best overviews for the whole of the Arctic are found in publications by CAFF (Conservation of the Arctic Flora and Fauna 2001). The Arctic is resource-rich and especially so in oil and gas, commodities of great value and great political significance. The national and multinational companies, which exploit the mineral resources, naturally put economic considerations first, and must be compelled to recognize the environmental implications of their activities. On the positive side Russia has announced many Siberian nature reserves, national parks, scientific and scenic reserves and wilderness areas amounting to around 19.7 million ha. Although they are staffed, funding is almost totally inadequate so that real management is difficult. Five of the areas are designated strict nature reserves which, by definition, excludes any economic development. It seems unlikely in present-day Russia that such reserves will either be given the resources that they need for protection or be able to resist being re-zoned if economic pressures demand it. A similar situation exists at present in Alaska with the Arctic Wildlife Refuge that the current US administration is trying hard to open up to oil exploitation.

11.12.3 The Antarctic

The early explorers had no concern for conservation and even in the Antarctic Treaty there is little indication that conservation or environmental stewardship were issues of concern. However, any sort of military activity, weapon testing, nuclear explosions, and disposal of nuclear waste were prohibited and these prohibitions, which have been strictly observed, disposed of many possible sources of environmental damage at a stroke. The SCAR, however, recognized the omission on conservation and provided the Treaty with the text that became the Agreed Measures for the Conservation of the Antarctic Flora and Fauna in 1964. These enjoined governments to prohibit the killing of animals save for scientific purposes or in cases of necessity, to minimize the disturbance of birds and seal colonies, to prohibit the collection of plants except for scientific purposes and (p.331) to alleviate pollution. Building on this basis the Treaty Parties, with advice from the SCAR, went on to designate Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Specially Protected Areas, agree that some species required special protection, and develop the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals to manage any attempt to establish commercial harvesting. Recognizing an increasing harvesting of marine biological resources the Parties, again on the basis of data provided by the SCAR, negotiated the Convention for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources which spread the authority of the Parties into the high seas, an area not covered by the original Treaty. Finally the Protocol subsumed all these elements as well as waste disposal, marine pollution, heritage sites, and liability to provide a comprehensive framework for conservation and environmental management. Key Treaty documents are now available on the website of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat.

The progress over the last 50 years has been remarkable, both in utilizing scientific advice as a principal determinant of policy and developing ways of reporting on progress without having a legal basis for sanctioning any country for failure. Of course not everything has worked as well as it should. There has been much criticism of the multiple stations established on King George Island rather than having them spread more widely to advantage the scientific possibilities. CCAMLR was agreed rather late, allowing the Soviet Union to badly damage some key fish stocks, and the present situation of pirate fishing of toothfish is almost certainly being undertaken in part with connivance from some of the CCAMLR countries. The failure of the parties to agree to a State of the Antarctic Environment report is a clear dereliction of duty but a consequence of the intransigence of the USA in matters relating to climate change. There is still no sensible framework for protected areas nor was the opportunity of preparing management plans for all the existing ones used to review the substantive need for some of them. Finally, the CEP still has some way to go to provide a convincing expertly staffed forum for the range of questions it is addressing. The Antarctic is now clearly a key part of the global change models, an increasingly important part of the international science picture, and a unique area for international and interdisciplinary science. Its long-term conservation is of crucial importance for everyone.