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| Estimated reading time: 2 min.|| Karina Jozami Martín Rubinetti|
The past of a place preserved by all nations as a legacy for future generations.
|Even if since remote times the existence of land surrounding the South Pole was suspected, it was not until 1603 that expeditions began to reach and explore the new continent lying beyond 60º South latitude. This Terra Incógnita awoke the political and commercial interest of various nations that have sponsored ambitious projects to settle their flag on Antarctica.|
Many fearless men have succeeded in their great deeds, such as Captain James Cook who, in 1773, crossed the Polar Circle and was the first man to circumnavigate the Antartic continent. Two years later, Cook disembarked on the Southern Georgias and Sandwich Islands, sailing along the routes that were already being used by seal hunters. But it was in the late XIXth and early XXth century that whaling and exploitation became popular in Antarctica. In adition to seal oil, the oil obtained from these amazing cetaceous fostered the engines of the factories and the growing industrial economy.
|The whale vessels established factories for the initial treatment of fat and all the products from seal and whale hunting on the islands.|
It is in this context where the sovereignty claims over the new territory began.
Whaling in Antartica turned into depredation until the International Whaling Commission was created in 1946. This entity began to regulate the development of this activity. However, bearing in mind what happened with whaling and taking into consideration the exploitation of Antartic resourses, various nations started to claim their sovereignty over the territory.
|Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom extended their border meridians to the South Pole and other nations such as Norway, France or Russia, which managed to reach Antarctica, also claimed their portions of land. The most coveted area was the peninsula and the South Shetland Archipelago, where most permanent bases have been settled.|
|After the Second World War, many scientific stations were opened to make international observations fostered by the celebration of the International Geophysical Year, in 1957. Within this frame, Antarctica was declared special research area and 50 geophysical stations were settled which worked with the help of international cooperation. This deed led to the signing of the Antartic Treaty in 1959, by which Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, the United States, France, Great Britain, Japan, Norway, New Zeland, South Africa and the no longer existing Soviet Union made a commitment to co-exist in peace.|
For the Sake of Science and Peace
This agreement, which was enforced in 1961, set forth that all the land located South of the southern 60th parallel, including all existing ice shelves and seas, would be used exclusively for peaceful purposes, thus banning any kind of military activity, except for the participation of military groups in scientific research or logistics support.
|The document also established the prohibition of all nuclear activities and the elimination of radioactive waste. On the other hand, it was agreed to share information about the scientific projects and programs made in Antarctica, as well as the exchange of scientific personnel. As regards territorial claims, the Treaty paralysed the claims, accepting all pending claims and declaring future demands that might arise as invalid.|
|The signing of the Antartic Treaty was the base for other international agreements that encouraged scientific activities and the preservation of the natural environment. They include the Brussels Convention, which in 1964 estalbished the protection of Antartic wildlife, declaring protected species and areas. This treaty was followed by the London Treaty (1972) and the Camberra Treaty (1980) up to the Madrid Protocol, signed in 1991.|
|The latter, which was enforced in 1998, reinforced the principles of the Antartic Treaty, guaranteeing the protection of Antarctica as a natural reserve consecrated to peace and science.|