Invaders in Antarctica

Antarctic Peninsula Glacier: Courtesy of Wikipedia Images
Antarctic Peninsula Glacier: Courtesy of Wikipedia Images

More and more people are getting the amazing opportunity to visit Antarctica. It is predicted that at least 28,000 tourists will travel to this frigid continent during the 2006-2007 tourist season. In addition, close to 10,000 scientists will likely visit. As the number of researchers and tourists traveling to Antarctica increases, so may the number of invasive species that are making their way there.

An invasive species is a plant or animal species that was brought intentionally or accidentally into a new ecosystem and has developed the ability to reproduce in its new habitat. These species can takeover the native species in their new environment.

What are some of the invasive species arriving in Antarctica?

  • Annual bluegrass, a type of grass ideal for putting greens, recently arrived on King George Island, an island off the coast of Antarctica. It is likely that this grass originally came to the island with a human visitor.
  • Northern Atlantic spider crabs have been spotted near the Antarctic Peninsula. These species probably traveled in a ship’s ballast tank and were released as the tank’s water was emptied.

Annual bluegrass, commonly used in putting greens, is now making its way to Antarctica: Courtesy of Ian Britton and freefoto.com

Global warming isn’t helping this invasive species problem. Globally, we see a greater biodiversity of organisms at the tropical regions than we do the polar regions. As the temperatures increase and the ice melts away on Antarctica, the warmer climate will allow for the survival of a broader range of organisms.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

I wonder if these tourist organizations are subject to the same strict guidelines that are in places in the Galapagos Islands. I did some work in the Galapagos and they were advising us to not even eat fruit for the days before our visit. Fruit has seeds that we don't digest and well...If you don't digest it...where does it go? All our food had to be dried and couldn't contain any fresh fruits.

When we arived on the islands we couldn't even get off the boat directly on the island. We had to climb off into the water without our shoes, scrub our shoes in the water, and then wade onto shore. The Ecuadorian officials were VERY strict about this whole process. Are there any comprable procedures for when people fly to Antarctica?

posted on Fri, 07/07/2006 - 8:46am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Invasive species are not always brought into environments, because the act of "bringing" suggest a degree of prior intent on behalf of an individual or a group of individuals (normally people).

It's more accurate to say that invasive species are introduced: accidentally, intentionally, or perhaps by some method of migration, and yes, this migration may have been forced because of changes in other habitats where the now invasive species was possibly controlled by some other means (climate, predation, etc.), or because it outstripped the demand on its food source.

posted on Fri, 07/14/2006 - 2:04pm
RussD's picture
RussD says:

I had the opportunity to work at the South Pole last fall and learned a bit about the rules and laws that govern this sort of thing. For Americans, intentionally polluting, introducing invasive species, or molesting or changing the behavior of wildlife in Antarctica is a violation of federal law.

This is not easy at times though. For example, the law indicates that altering wildlife behavior would be considered a violation. But some animals like penguins, are curious so if they see you, it is likely they will waddle up to you and investigate. I heard a story of a US Antarctic program employee who happened upon a penguin on one of the roads at McMurdo station. She turned to walk away and the penguin followed her! Strictly that was a violation of the law, but unavoidable.

When traveling to Antarctica to work from the US, all of your baggage is scrutinized repeatedly; even so it is really up to the individual to make sure everything is clean and free of seeds or any contaminants. When I went to the South Pole, we went through New Zealand, which has its own strict rules just for setting foot into the country. If you have been on a farm recently or a for a walk in the country, or have camping gear, they like to open your luggage and rummage through everything looking for seeds or dirt. Shoes and tents and camping gear are commonly confiscated or disinfected and returned to you in a soggy pile.

Once in Antarctica, though guidelines of the Antarctic Treaty are enforced. Once the first large projects got underway on the Antarctic continent back in the late 1950s, twelve countries got together in 1961 and created the Antarctic Treaty. The treaty covers anything any activity further south of 60 degrees south latitude. There are currently 45 countries who have signed the treaty.

The treaty can be outlined by the following three objectives:
(copied from the British Antarctic Survey Website)

1)To promote international scientific cooperation in Antarctica;
2)To demilitarize Antarctica, to establish it as a zone free of nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste, and to ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only;
3)To set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty.

Of course the treaty just sets guidelines that the countries have agreed to follow. But each nation may have laws that govern the activities of it's citizens. US citizens for example are subject to the Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978. This act makes it unlawful to:

take native mammals or birds
engage in harmful interference
enter specially designated areas
introduce species to Antarctica
introduce substances designated as pollutants
discharge designated pollutants
import certain Antarctic items into the USA

Penalties are up to $25,000 and one year imprisonment for each violation.

I can say that the US Antarctic program takes all of this VERY seriously. Employees who intentionally violate these laws and other rules are unceremoniously fired and sent back to the LA airport and must find their own transportation back home. Once there, they may be fined, imprisoned, or both. Americans traveling to Antarctica as tourists are also expected to heed these laws, however enforcement is obviously problematic.


posted on Fri, 07/14/2006 - 4:49pm
crazy's picture
crazy says:

antarcticas rules !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

posted on Mon, 10/15/2007 - 10:13pm

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <h3> <h4> <em> <i> <strong> <b> <span> <ul> <ol> <li> <blockquote> <object> <embed> <param> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may embed videos from the following providers vimeo, youtube. Just add the video URL to your textarea in the place where you would like the video to appear, i.e. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw0jmvdh.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options