The Antarctic Treaty

The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 by the twelve nations that had been active in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58. After demonstrating how successfully scientific cooperation could be carried out, and with territorial claims to Antarctica unresolved, the Antarctic Treaty established Antarctica as a region to be used only for peaceful purposes and placed all territorial claims in abeyance. The Treaty came into force in 1961, and now has fifty-three Parties to the Treaty. From 1961 to 1994 the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) generally met every two years, but from 1994 annual meetings have occurred.

What's in the Antarctic Treaty?

The original Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959, consisted of only fourteen sections.

Since it was signed, many new and additional measures and agreements have been added to the Treaty to cover environmental protection, its administration and the increase in tourism, amongst other things. The Antarctic Treaty represents an outstanding international agreement that has stood the test of time and ensures the protection of Antarctica, its environment, and the scientific investigation that takes place there.

Find out what the original document stated here.

Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals

In response to concern over the commercial exploitation of seals, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals was signed in 1972 by the Antarctic Treaty members. This stated that seals were not be killed or captured in waters south of 60°S between March and August (the closed season), and gave limits on the number of seals that could be killed outside of these times. Weddell seals could also not be hunted between September and January, and Ross seals, southern elephant seals and fur seals were all designated as protected species. Areas were also created as seal reserves, where no seal could be hunted, and regulations were put in place.

Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources

In 1980 the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources was signed, with the aim of safeguarding the environment and protecting the ecosystem of surrounding seas. Applied to the area south of 60°S, it specifically sought to maintain ecological relationships and prevent irreversible changes. CCAMLR established the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to facilitate marine research, compile data, and identify conservation needs and measures.

Protocol on Environmental Protection

Introduced in 1991, the aim was to enhance the protection of the Antarctic environment and to strengthen the Treaty’s aims. The Protocol designated Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science, with the signatories committing themselves to the comprehensive protection of the environment and its ecosystems. All activities in Antarctica were to be planned so as to limit any adverse impacts on the environment. Measures were to be established so that each party could provide a prompt response to any environmental emergency, and any mineral resource activity other than for scientific research was prohibited. The Environmental Protocol also protected native mammals, birds and plants.


Go back to our Antarctic history timeline here to learn more about Antarctica and its rich human history.

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