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Publications archive - Annual reports

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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Environment Australia Annual Report 2001-02

Environment Australia, 2002
ISSN 1441-9335

Review of Performance - Outcome Three: Antarctica (continued)
Protecting the Antarctic Environment (Departmental Output 3.2)

Objective

The AAD seeks to protect the environment of Antarctica, the Southern Ocean and the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands by developing ways to minimise human impact; remediating past work sites; and undertaking research to ensure that environmental and fisheries management is based on sound scientific principles. The AAD administers legislation covering environmental impact assessment and conservation of flora and fauna.

Result

The AAD continued to meet Australia's international obligations under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty and Australian legislation. The potential environmental impacts of activities undertaken in Antarctica by the AAD and other Australians were assessed, and relevant permits were issued. A framework strategy for the clean-up of Australia's old waste sites in Antarctica was prepared.

The AAD developed and implemented an environmental management system for its activities in Australia and the Antarctic, including procedures for identifying significant activities, environmental aspects and impacts, document control, communication, training, and review. The AAD is seeking accreditation for its environmental management system under the International Standards Organisation (ISO) 14001 system in 2002.

Australia also continued its leading role in the Committee for Environmental Protection. The AAD prepared briefing for the Australian delegation to the committee, led the delegation to the Committee meeting, participated in its intersessional groups and prepared policy proposals for the Committee's consideration. Australia was influential in the preparation of recommendations by the Committee to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting on the subjects of historic sites and monuments, collection of meteorites, tourism, area protection, environmental impact assessment, and environmental monitoring procedures. Australia also prepared management plans for some Antarctic protected areas and reviewed draft plans prepared by other parties.

Antarctic marine living resources

The AAD has lead scientific and policy responsibility for Australia's participation in CCAMLR and provided much of the briefing for the Australian delegation to the 2001 meetings. AAD staff led the Australian delegation to both the Commission and the Scientific Committee, the two major forums of CCAMLR. Work by the AAD was instrumental in key environmental outcomes from the CCAMLR meetings including on policy matters such as illegal fishing and practical matters such as setting catch limits for fisheries.

A background paper on krill stock structure assessment techniques was presented to the CCAMLR Working Group on Ecosystem Monitoring and Management and a paper on squid in CCAMLR Division 58.4.1 was produced.

Pack ice seals survey data was analysed by AAD scientists and a statistical consultant. The initial results were presented to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research Biology Symposium and submitted for publication.

Work was also undertaken on fishing line sink rates and the effects of line weights for experimentation to be conducted in 2002.

The Applied Marine Mammal Ecology Group was formed and will focus on novel techniques for the examination of diet and foraging in marine mammals.

Atmospheric sciences

Atmospheric science work continued, particularly with the light detection and ranging (Lidar) laser instrument at Davis studying the spring polar vortex break-up over Davis. A polar stratospheric cloud was observed with the Lidar at Davis on 9 January 2002. This is only the second southern hemisphere site to make such an observation.

Biology

The fur seal population is increasing on Macquarie Island by around 13 per cent per year. Hybridisation among the three species of fur seals breeding on Macquarie Island is extensive.

Molecular biological techniques were used to show a high level of genetic mutation and "cryptic speciation" within Antarctic moss populations which may be related to increased ultraviolet exposure resulting from the Antarctic ozone hole.

Significant yearly variations in zooplankton abundances were detected in the polar frontal and Antarctic zones. Consistently observed marked latitudinal changes in zooplankton abundances indicate the likelihood of a frontal system or oceanographic discontinuity.

The foraging range of albatross species was investigated and is providing valuable information for evaluation of risk assessments of longline fishing in the Australian Fishing Zone around Macquarie Island.

Many new records were reported of terrestrial plants, invertebrates and microorganisms from Heard Island. Some species show adaptations for survival in marginal habitats.

Feral rats on Macquarie Island were shown to have a negative impact on the germination of some plants. A new plant virus was identified from Macquarie Island, the southernmost plant virus ever found. It should provide insights into the evolution of plant viruses.

Glaciology

The properties of sea ice which impact on the primary production of ice within the seasonal sea ice zone were quantified and a spring field study to relate sea ice properties to biological processes was completed.

Human impacts

Experiments indicate that natural biological remediation of hydrocarbon contaminated soils in Antarctica can be enhanced so that in situ treatment becomes a cost-effective alternative to removing contaminated soil from Antarctica.

Studies have shown that 4 to 8 cubic metres of contaminated material is being carried from the old Thala Valley waste disposal site near Casey station into the adjacent bay every summer by meltwater. As a consequence, work on the tip was identified as an operational priority.

Profiles of contaminants in layers in marine sediments near the Thala Valley tip suggest that sediments temporarily accumulate contaminants but that episodic processes, such as storms, disperse and dilute them every 15 to 30 years to levels that present little ecological risk. If the source material in the tip is removed the contaminated sediments in the bay should disperse naturally over time.

Antibodies to Infectious Bursal Disease Virus (IBDV) were found in all Antarctic bird species tested and at a particularly high level in Emperor penguin chicks. These results are unusual as anti-IBDV antibodies are rarely detected in wild birds. No significant difference in the percentage of positive birds of any species was seen across years, locations or stages of the breeding season. This persistence of antibodies without any observable sign of clinical disease suggests that non-pathogenic IBDV is endemic in Antarctic penguin populations and has not been recently introduced.

Antibodies to other common viral avian pathogens, such as Newcastle Disease Virus and Avian Influenza, were not found in Antarctic penguins indicating that they have not previously been exposed to the viruses and are therefore not immune to these diseases. Conversely, antibodies to the viruses were detected in south polar skuas, which migrate to non-Antarctic regions, suggesting these birds are likely candidates for introducing diseases to which Antarctic penguins have not previously been exposed.

Investigation of an unusually large number of dead Adélie penguins at Mawson revealed that crushing by ice at the ice-land interface during particularly stormy weather was the most likely cause of death. At the time the deaths were first observed, they were treated as a possible infectious disease and precautions were implemented to guard against humans spreading the pathogen if this were the cause. The event tested organisational preparedness for wildlife disease and was used to improve response procedures.

Clinical examination of Weddell seals from the Vestfold Hills region revealed many minor signs of ill health such as skin and lung lesions, eye and nasal discharges, extensive parasitism, the presence of many types of bacteria and antibody reactions to several viruses. This is important baseline information because in the past clinical studies such as these have only been carried out as part of the investigation of unusual mortality events.

This study indicates that normal populations have a range of clinical signs that, following an unusual mortality of wildlife, could be interpreted incorrectly as the cause of death.

Experimental closure visits to the Shirley Island Adélie penguin colony were used to test whether the cumulative effects of disturbance by recreational visitors from Casey station were the reason for the relative decline in that colony compared with the seldom visited colony nearby in the protected area at Whitney Point. The experimental closure made no difference, indicating that stopping visits does not cause an increase in breeding success in the short term.

Bacteria and viruses from human sewage are known to survive in the Antarctic environment. Ultra violet sterilisers installed as a trial in the sewage treatment plant at Casey were shown to reduce bacteria discharged to the Antarctic marine environment in sewage effluent. The trial has indicated how the installation can be improved to increase the effectiveness of ultra violet sterilisation and so reduce the chance of introducing alien microbial organisms to Antarctica.

Experiments on the effects of disturbance by visitors and vehicles on Weddell seals indicated that they are most sensitive before weaning when the pups are still closely associated with their mothers. Quantification of behavioural and physiological responses will be used as the basis for visitor separation distance guidelines.

The type and size of plastic particles ingested by Southern Ocean predators revealed by analysis of scat samples indicates that ingested particles are derived from physically abraded macroplastics. Electron micrograph and infrared transmission scanning spectrophotometer analysis indicate that polyethylene dominates plastics in scats. It is hypothesised that particles were created in turbulent nearshore areas, washed out to sea and consumed by fish, which were in turn consumed by seals.

Oceanography

A major interdisciplinary project to study the Southern Ocean's role in global processes was completed using the Aurora Australis during the 2001-02 summer. This was the largest-ever Australian Antarctic scientific expedition, involving 70 scientists from 11 countries travelling thousands of kilometres from Tasmania to Antarctica and back to gather data on how the Southern Ocean influences the world's climate and the global carbon cycle.

The voyage's wide-ranging study of changes over time to the ocean's physical and biological properties involved a traverse from the relatively warm waters near Tasmania to deep into the sea ice zone. Among its key findings:

The voyage successfully trialed several cutting-edge marine science instruments.