Antarctic Treaty and Protocol on Environmental Protection

Australia, as a party to the Antarctic Treaty (1959) and its Protocol on Environmental Protection (Madrid Protocol), is bound by these instruments’ provisions on cultural and natural heritage.

The first Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (Canberra, 1961) acknowledged the importance of Antarctic historic heritage. It adopted Recommendation I-9, which urged governments interested in Antarctic tombs, buildings or objects of historic interest to consult each other on their condition, restoration or preservation, and to adopt all adequate measures to protect historic sites from damage or destruction. Since 1972, Antarctic Treaty parties have maintained a list of historic sites and monuments. This expanding list has always included Mawson’s Huts.

The Madrid Protocol (1991) establishes a comprehensive environmental protection regime for Antarctica. All activities in Antarctica must be planned and conducted so as to limit adverse impacts on the environment. Annexes to the Protocol deal with specific environmental management and protection concerns. While no annex applies specifically to historic heritage values, provisions for environmental impact assessment and for area protection and management are relevant. Many historic sites are contained within designated Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPA), which require permits to enter, and activities are limited to those specified in a management plan. Activities in an Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA) must be in accordance with a code of conduct in the management plan.

In addition to its listing as an Antarctic Treaty Historic Site and Monument, the Mawson’s Huts Historic Site was afforded further protection in 2004 when the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting designated the site as ASMA No. 3 and ASPA No. 162, and approved management plans for the site (see Appendices V and VI). Management plans explain reasons for designation, identify zones (such as the Visual Protection Zone in this site), and set conditions under which permits may be granted, and other conditions applying to access and activities which may be carried out in the area. The provisions of these management plans apply to all Parties to the Madrid Protocol.

In 2007, the Australian Antarctic Division developed a Management Plan, in order to meet obligations arising from both the Antarctic Treaty management plans for the site, and the inclusion of the area on the National Heritage List and Commonwealth Heritage List. The Management Plan was reviewed and revised in 2013. It was reviewed again in 2018.