The plants and animals in Antarctica are unique. Antarctica’s isolated location means that the plants there have not developed natural protections against new, foreign species. The extreme weather conditions contribute to the slow growth and recovery of the flora. The soil in the region is particularly sensitive to erosion and pollutants, which makes it important to protect these sites and not expose them to the effects of foreign species.
The animals in Antarctica are not accustomed to the presence of humans. Some may become stressed, and contact with humans may contribute to their behaving abnormally. They may also be unafraid of people, and seek out contact themselves. Humans carry viruses and bacteria to which the animals in Antarctica are not normally exposed and approaching or petting them could expose them to new diseases. To protect the flora and fauna, it is important that everyone who visits Antarctica follow the rules that the parties to the Antarctic Treaty have agreed to, including:
- Do not go near the animals.
- Maintain extra distance during breeding, nesting, and moulting seasons, when animals are especially sensitive.
- Do not touch or feed animals.
- Avoid loud noises or rapid movements, which can startle the animals.
- Do not walk on vegetated ground; use existing paths and platforms instead.
- Move in small groups so as not to startle animals or trample new paths.
Alien species can threaten existing plants and animals
Introducing new plant and animal species into Antarctica is forbidden, as they may threaten the existing flora and fauna. Once established, new species can be extremely difficult to eliminate. The Antarctic ecosystem is sensitive, and if the new plants or animals are more vigorous than the existing ones, they may multiply and threaten or displace existing species.
Visitors’ own clothing, shoes, and equipment can also contribute to the spread of new species, because organic material such as seeds, spores, plant parts, pebbles, and organisms can become attached to clothes or equipment and be carried from one area to another.
Important steps to take before departing for Antarctica
Several simple but important steps can be taken before departing for Antarctica to reduce this risk, including:
- Clean your clothing and equipment carefully and remove any dirt or soil. Take extra care with Velcro tape, rubber soles, and the insides of pockets where dirt often accumulates. It is preferable to use new or unused equipment if it’s possible.
- Clean all your gear and personal effects before and after visiting each location, if you are travelling to multiple areas in Antarctica.
- Ship, pack, and store foodstuffs in a manner that prevents the presence of insects and vermin; for example, soil must be completely removed from fruit, vegetables, and other foods.
- Remove soil and organic material from vehicles to be shipped to Antarctica. Be extra thorough with tyres and caterpillar tracks, where dirt tends to accumulate.