It's often assumed that Antarctica is safe from the negative effects of humans on the environment – after all, it appears to be pristine and wonderfully isolated. However, new research says the southernmost continent needs considerably more attention to safeguard it, with its wide-ranging biodiversity showing increasingly more signs of damage from tourism, overfishing, transnational pollution, and warming oceans.
A new study in PLOS Biology looked at the threats facing Antarctica's biodiversity, from the albatross to the sea spider to the blue whale. It also looked at how Antarctica is addressing the 20 biodiversity targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to help stop biodiversity loss.
Overall, the study's results are "fairly grim", study co-author Peter Stoett, professor of political science in Concordia's Faculty of Arts and Science, said in a statement.
The team's research found that the region was on top of invasive species management and making progress with local pollutant pressures, unlike other areas of the world. However, the study also found that there was "insufficient effort" being put forward to mitigate habitat degradation, which is worsening from increasing scientific expeditions, tourist activity, and warming oceans. Furthermore, the area is not doing enough to curb overfishing and it continues to be subject to pollution from elsewhere in the world.
In short, it's pretty much the same as the wider world.
The study says there is still much the world can do to halt many of these problems. However, now is the time to stop assuming that Antarctica is somehow immune from these forces.
"Biodiversity in the Antarctic region has often fallen between the cracks – no pun intended, given the cracks in ice cover that are developing," said Stoett, although it is "challenged in this region just like it is anywhere else."
He added: "More and more people are visiting Antarctica through tourism, and overfishing continues to be an issue. But the bigger threats stem from global trends: warmer oceans, melting ice cover and transnational pollution, for example. This should not overshadow some successes, but we need to be vigilant and aware of what is happening."