Conservation planning for Antarctic stations

Brooks, ST ORCID: 0000-0002-0516-7841 2020 , 'Conservation planning for Antarctic stations', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The ice-free areas of Antarctica make up less than half a percent of the continent but are vital locations for scientific and biodiversity values: providing key habitats for the two vascular plant species, mosses, lichens, invertebrates, the majority of vertebrate breeding sites, and the most accessible locations for studying geoheritage. Human activity is also disproportionately concentrated within these ice-free areas, with the most pronounced impacts from the construction and operation of research stations. As a consequence of their locations, despite stations appearing to be small against the scale of the continent, their footprints can have profound impacts on nearby values, warranting conservation. To address this, an understanding of the term ‘footprint’, as it applies to stations, is first provided to aid conservation planning and standardise terminology. This is followed by an investigation of contemporary environmental accidents in Antarctica, finding that, while a substantial portion of the current footprint of stations originate from discontinued practices, the largest source of new human impacts, with a main exception of fuel spills, were from planned and permitted activities. To provide context for broad-scale conservation management, this thesis then provides the first report quantifying the footprint of station infrastructure across all Antarctica: with >390,000 m$$^2$$ of buildings, and an additional disturbance footprint of >5,200,000 m$$^2$$ just on ice-free land. The significance of this disturbance is further amplified by an analysis finding multiple physical and biological impacts occur in sites of visibly disturbed substrate across Antarctica’s ice-free regions. Drawing upon the knowledge gained, this thesis concludes by providing an approach to balance this footprint against obligations to protect the environment, agreed upon under the Antarctic Treaty System, through improved, strategic, and deliberate conservation planning of station sites.