Antarctica: the final frontierScience 

Antarctica: the final frontier

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With a total size of 14,000,000 square kilometres (5,400,000 square miles) and a population of 1,106, Antarctica has one of the lowest human densities in the world. However, amongst those 1,106 individuals currently living in the southernmost continent on Earth is a vast majority of scientists. Indeed, the population currently calling Antarctica home are a large group of international scientists and their support staff.

Governed as part of the Antarctic Treaty System, Antarctica is split into several territorial claims by France, England, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile. In recent years, several other countries, including the United States, Russia, South Africa, Brazil and Uruguay have begun to make claims, although none have been formally presented. As an international entity recognized by most countries, Antarctica has been designated a consortium whereby only scientific staff can be present and under a strict set of rules.

argentinian research station
argentinian research station

Amongst those rules include a complete ban on nuclear activities, military action, mining or any process that would harm the environment. Each claim is governed by the claiming country’s rule of law, with some small exceptions here and there. However, conflicts have arisen in the past as certain countries refuse to recognize any claim to Antarctica. One of the more famous examples pitted two countries against each other in the International Court of Justice in 2014.

Antarctica's whales (killer whale)
Antarctica’s whales (killer whale)

Japan, who did not sign the Antarctic Treaty, encroached Australian territorial waters off its’ Antarctic claim to pursue its whaling activities. The wildlife in those waters was technically protected by Australian law, but as Japan didn’t recognize Australia’s claim, it refused to comply with them. After a lot of backlash Australia took Japan to court — which sided with the complainant, and issued a cease and desist of any whaling activities in South Sea waters to Japan. Whilst Japan just chose to ignore the ruling and continue whaling off the Antarctic coast, it showed just how far certain countries were willing to protect their sovereignty.

As that example points out, governing anything related to Antarctica can be a bit problematic, and goes to explain why limitations have been put in place regarding who is able to set foot on the frozen desert’s surface. Unless you are somehow affiliated to a scientific body associated to research facilities on Antarctic soil or manage to secure an expensive tourism venture, the odds of setting foot on the world’s second largest continent are fairly small.

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