Study scrutinizes , on
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — A high concentration of research stations and the associated intense human activity is compromising the integrity ecosystems on parts of South Georgia island, according to a team of German researchers who have been gathering data in the area for several decades.
Along with land-based impacts like tire tracks and discarded industrial waste, leakage from port facilities and ships is also affecting marine ecosystems, said University of Jena professor Dr. Hans-Ulrich Peter, head author of a report authored for the German federal environmental agency.
The report recommends designating the Fildes Peninsula, part of King George Island, as a formally managed area under the Antarctic Treaty, which would include legally binding standards for the use of the region. The proposed measure could reduce the conflicting interests between science, tourism and the protection of geological and historical sites as well as keeping its environment intact.
“We have a genuine waste problem in the Antarctic,” Peter said. “The Fildes Peninsula is one of the largest ice-free areas of the Antarctic with a relatively high degree of biodiversity,” he said, explaining that the university’s ecologists documented damage to vegetation, as well as invasive plants. “If there isn’t a profound change of direction, these negative environmental influences will be amplified in the next few years,” he said, adding that the lack of consensus among the Antarctic Treaty states is blocking the realization of the proposal so far.
“”Due to the extreme climatic conditions the sensitive vegetation only recovers very slowly,” said Christina Braun, a member of Dr. Peter’s team. Braun has visited King George Island seven times for research purposes.
“Vehicle tracks sometimes remain there for decades.” But the vegetation is not only damaged by vehicles and building work. According to Christina Braun the unique flora of the Antarctic is equally threatened by ‘imported’ plants. “Some years ago we found some non-native plants nearby the Russian research station Bellingshausen,” she said.
King George Island has become a logistics hub for Antarctic research, with six permanently occupied stations, including an aircraft runway, concentrated in a relatively small area. The report paints a grim picture, describing “Leftovers from derelict experimental set-ups and field huts (that) are slowly decomposing … Rubbish – some of it containing dangerous chemicals, discarded oil cans and car batteries … is lying in the open. On top of this there are coastal waters and beaches suffering oil-pollution as a result of poor handling of fuel at the stations.”