Sustainability is a major concern for the future of Antarctica and for the marine life in the surrounding Southern Ocean. While the Antarctic Treaty reserves the continent for peace and science, there are many threats to the future of Antarctica. Climate change, and the introduction of non-native species, threaten to impact flora and fauna of Antarctica. (As set out in section on the Impacts of Climate Change, melting of the Antarctic ice sheets could affect other parts of the world with rising sea levels.) Numbers of tourists are increasing, for example there were approximately 7,500 visitors in 1996 - 7 and over 36,000 in 2008-9. The overall trend towards continued increases in tourist numbers could have localised and/or wider regional impacts on the Antarctic environment in the future.
Although exploitation of Antarctic minerals is prohibited indefinitely, could exhaustion of minerals elsewhere leave Antarctica as the only viable option in future mineral exploitation? Perhaps if mining techniques were improved to make them more environmentally friendly and future melting could increase accessibility and ease of drilling would the Antarctic Treaty Parties lift the ban on mining in the future? Mining would certainly throw into question the sustainable use of Antarctica and would change the mandate of a place for peace and science under the Antarctic Treaty.
Unsustainable exploitation of fish and other marine life worldwide is a cause for concern and Antarctica is no exception. The fish stocks in the southern Ocean are managed by CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) but enforcing the conservation measures agreed by CCAMLR in the vast Southern Ocean in very inhospitable conditions is very difficult which means that illegal unregulated and unreported fishing operations are able to take place. Find out in section on Fishing what steps CCAMLR is taking to combat IUU fishing and to ensure sustainable management of marine living resources in the Southern Ocean.
Antarctic species of flora and fauna open up opportunities for bioprospectors to identify new compounds and genes to develop new drugs and products that could help produce wide benefits for society. Should large-scale commercial bioprospecting be allowed in the future? This poses ethical and legal problems of ownership of these biological resources and who should benefit. How can the Antarctic Treaty solve these issues in the future?
So what is the future for Antarctica? Should the Antarctic Treaty maintain Antarctica as a place of peace and science or should some controlled development including mining and land-based tourist facilities be permitted? Alternatively, should tourism be limited and bioprospecting banned? Should more stringent rules and regulations be enforced to ensure that endangered and vulnerable species on land and in the ocean are more fully protected to ensure their survival in the future?