|Antarctica. Aerial photo by Astro_Alex.|
Less than 32% of Antarctica is made up of areas that are free from human interference, and these areas are declining as human activity increases, reports a paper published in Nature. The study finds that although 99.6% of the continent can be considered to be wilderness (a relatively undisturbed environment), this area does not include much of its biodiversity.
Despite Antarctica’s isolation, the continent is under increasing pressure from human activity, including scientific research, the development of infrastructure and tourism. However, the total area of wilderness on the continent is unknown, as is the extent to which Antarctica’s biodiversity is contained within this.
Four killer whales cooperatively hunting a crabeater
seal off the coast of Antarctica. Photo by Callan Carpenter,
taken from one of many research vessels in the area.
Steven Chown and colleagues assembled a record of ground-based human activity across Antarctica from publications, tourism data and scientific databases from 1819 to 2018. This resulted in approximately 2.7 million records, which were used to calculate the total area of wilderness across Antarctica, and its representation of biodiversity. The authors found that wilderness encompasses nearly the entire continent, but excludes much of its important biodiversity. Less than 7% of more than 23,000 species records in the Antarctic Terrestrial Biodiversity database were found to occur in areas classified as wilderness. Of Antarctica’s terrestrially important bird areas and specially protected areas, only 16% and 25%, respectively, were within areas of wilderness that had experienced negligible human impact.
The authors argue that the expansion of specially protected areas could reverse the decline in pristine areas and secure the continent’s biodiversity.