Antarctica, regarded as one of the world’s last true frontiers, is under threat.
Global warming is known to be wreaking havoc on the polar ice caps of the earth’s southernmost region and relentless efforts by multinational energy firms to tap the massive volumes of oil and gas under its frigid surface are also to blamed. But there’s another insidious, though no less real, source of danger: humans.
The continent has long been protected by multilateral agreements as a natural reserve where military activity is banned and scientific exploration is the major pursuit. But despite this, and its remoteness, rapidly rising human activity in the area is threatening its biodiversity, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS.
Tourism, for example, is booming in the region. The number of visitors has surged from only about 5,000 in 1990 to 40,000 annually at present. Research facilities and other infrastructure are also mushrooming in the area, further threatening its pristine environment.
According to the authors of the study, Antarctica is one of the planet’s least protected regions. Only 1.5 percent of its ice-free zone, which contains most of the continent’s native species, has been formally designated as protected areas. And these 55 protected areas are very close to sites of high human activity, and therefore threatened by the entry of species from outside the continent.
“By any measure, Antarctic biodiversity is poorly protected by reserves, and those reserves are threatened,” the study said.
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