Shameful! Even Antarctica's King George Island is full of trash

Antarctica King George Island
CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikipedia

No place is safe

King George Island is relatively ice-free and easy to access, at least compared to most of the rest of Antarctica, so it is an ideal spot for research stations. There are currently bases belonging to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Ecuador, South Korea, Peru, Poland, Russia, and Uruguay, six of which operate year-round, and there's also an airfield. A lot of what is being done there is scientific research, but part of the reason behind the existence of these stations is for countries to be able to later claim a presence in Antarctica in the hope that they'll be able to exploit some of the continent's natural resources (minerals and hydrocarbons, not solar power...).

Antarctica King George IslandWikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Sadly, even this extremely remote and thinly populated corner of the world is not safe from pollution. A recent report (pdf) by Germany's Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt) describes the situation there, and it appears pretty bad. Here's just one of many examples cited in the report:

Oil contamination is one of the most common causes of local contamination in the Fildes Region and it was recorded in the form of visible traces on the soil and water surfaces. The situation found in the study area indicates that contamination of the Fildes Peninsula by oil and diesel fuel is undiminished. Particularly affected are places where aircraft and motor vehicles are filled with fuel, places where fuel is stored, and the road network that links the stations and the airport. The cause of numerous, mostly small patches of contamination is the frequently occurring oil loss due to insufficient maintenance of vehicles used by the stations, together with a lack of care when handling fuel. In addition, the repeated transfer of fuel between various supply and daily service tanks increases the risk of oil contamination. During the research period, there was at least one major leak of diesel fuel (approx. 3,000 to 5,000 l) from a storage tank, which was comparable to an incident in 2005. Measures taken in response to the leak were slow in coming and were completely inadequate, so that a large amount of the fuel entered the nearby cove. The oil film that was clearly visible throughout the summer also stretched near to the coast of ASPA No. 150 Ardley Island, where there is a large penguin colony. The following summer, meltwater again carried fuel into the sea, though to a smaller extent. The measures taken against this again had little effect.

King George Island mapGoogle Maps/Screen capture

Here's another example of the damage being done on the island:

For example, nesting areas of terns, skuas and kelp gulls were negatively affected by noise from construction work during the breeding season, and resting seals were also disturbed. Furthermore, nesting sites of terns were considerably damaged, and in some cases completely destroyed, by the removal of substantial amounts of sand and gravel for use in construction. Large areas of dense vegetation were also destroyed and several beach ridges of palaeontological significance were completely removed, which represents a considerable loss to science.

Because of the extreme climate and extremely low rate of growth of any vegetation, damage to the environment can take decades to heal.

This state of affairs is shameful. There needs to be better international cooperation between the stations to avoid these kinds of things and protect the local fauna and flora. If we can't protect a small island in Antarctica, how are we supposed to cooperate to protect the planet as a whole?

Antarctica King George IslandWikipedia/Public Domain

Via Federal Environment Agency (Germany), Discovery

See also: 300,000 mirrors: World's largest thermal solar plant (377MW) under construction in the Mojave

Tags: Antarctica | Pollution


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