Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004
ISSN 1441 9335
Review of performance: Outcome 2 - Antarctica
Australia's interests in Antarctica are advanced
Progress towards Outcome 2
This section summarises overall progress towards Outcome 2.
- Influencing the Antarctic Treaty System
- Protecting the Antarctic environment
- Understanding the global climate system
- Undertaking practical and significant scientific research
Influencing the Antarctic Treaty System
The Department takes the lead on issues of concern to Australia and develops initiatives for international consideration. It supports Australia's compliance with the requirements of the Antarctic Treaty System and cooperation with Antarctic Treaty partners. During 2003-04:
- Australia worked closely with other parties to the Antarctic Treaty on a number of initiatives to improve the management of tourism in Antarctica, including measures on insurance and contingency planning for tourism and adventure expeditions. Australia also played an active role in negotiating rules for liability for environmental damage.
- Australia was instrumental in working out the details for the establishment of a permanent secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty. The secretariat will commence work in Buenos Aires in September 2004.
- An electronic system developed by Australia for Antarctic State of the Environment reporting was endorsed for further development by the 2004 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.
- Australia played a lead role in the development of key conservation measures at the 2003 meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to better manage exploratory and established fisheries, to minimise by-catch and to combat pirate fishing. Australia also played major roles in the commission's scientific committee and working groups.
- The Australian Antarctic Division continued its efforts in Southern Ocean whale research.
- The Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, for which Australia is currently acting as the interim secretariat, entered into force. The agreement marks a considerable step forward in the international work to protect these threatened seabirds.
- Australian scientists continued to play prominent roles in the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and its sub-committees.
- The Director of the Australian Antarctic Division was re-elected to chair the international Committee for Environmental Protection for a further two years.
Protecting the Antarctic environment
The Department minimises the human impacts of current activities, repairs past work sites, and undertakes research to ensure Antarctic resource management is based on sound scientific principles. During 2003-04:
- The Australian Antarctic Division maintained certification of its environmental management system to the international standard (ISO 14001).
- At the 2004 Antarctic Treaty Consultative meeting Australia achieved Antarctic Specially Managed Area status for the Cape Denison precinct of the 1912-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Douglas Mawson.
- A major research voyage around Heard Island was completed. Research findings will help to support the ecologically sustainable management of the fishery in the region.
- Work to minimise seabird by-catch by increasing the sink rate of fishing lines was recognised internationally by the awarding of a prestigious Pew Marine Conservation Fellowship to Australian Antarctic Division scientist Dr Graham Robertson. Dr Robertson initiated the manufacture of weighted longlines, conducted scientific trials into their effect on by-catch, persuaded fishing companies to use the new techniques, and publicised the results to encourage widespread adoption of the weighted longlines.
- The Department removed 1000 cubic metres of contaminated material from the Thala Valley waste tip near Casey as the first stage in a ten-year plan to clean up Australia's old waste sites in Antarctica.
Understanding the global climate system
Through Australia's Antarctic science programme, the Department is advancing understanding of Antarctica's role in the global climate system and contributes data to the world's climate research and meteorological communities. During 2003-04:
- Glaciologists from the Australian Antarctic Division found evidence of a decline in the extent of Antarctic ice with chemical signals from an ice core taken from Law Dome near Casey station indicating a diminution in the sea ice of around 20 per cent in the past 50 years.
- Division scientists found that in the past three years a major glacier, Brown Glacier on Heard Island, had retreated 50 metres. The surface of the lower slopes of the glacier lost as much as 11 metres in height.
- Atmospheric physicists from the Division successfully predicted a large ozone hole over much of Antarctica from work involving a light detection and ranging instrument.
- Research into Southern Ocean biogeochemical processes showed carbon dioxide uptake correlates dramatically with phytoplankton stocks.
Undertaking practical and significant scientific research
The Department provides data and support for Australian and international collaborators and conducts physical, biological and medical research. During 2003-04:
- Investigation of the biotechnological potential of Antarctic microorganisms continued.
- Extensive oceanographic data collected during the simultaneous land-sea research programme on the marine food web around Heard Island provided insights into why some areas are more productive than others.
- New technologies developed by Australian scientists were used during the clean up of the Thala Valley waste tip to control the dispersion of contaminants from the site. Their success was confirmed using environmental monitoring techniques not previously attempted in Antarctica.