Who owns Antarctica? This is a question that doesn’t come up very often but could be very important in the future. Since there is no permanent population, it appears that nobody does. Why not move to the south pole and stake your claim on your piece of the pie. Not so fast…..
The southern Antarctic Peninsula region was first confirmed in 1820 and by 1840, Antarctica was established as a continent rather than just a group of big islands. Many countries set up scientific labs and camps throughout the 20th century leading to claims of ownership. This continued until 1959 when the Antarctic Treaty was signed securing claims, but neither denying nor confirming these claims. This allows certain countries to essentially stake their future claim, should the Antarctic region to be opened up for development or resources. Because of the circumstances involved with owning rights to an undeveloped continent, many countries(those not benefitting) do not acknowledge the current claims.
The Antarctic Treaty, which took effect in 1961, outlined the management of Antarctica and meetings continue to dictate how Antarctica is administered. Currently, 46 treaty member nations participate in the periodic meetings. Of the 46 members, 28 hold decisive voting powers. 7 members hold these voting powers and claims to actual ownership of parts of Antarctica. The United States and Russia do not acknowledge the claims of others though they do hold voting powers.
This agreement spelled out many things for the future of Antarctica, paying close attention to knowledge instead of exploitation. Toxic waste, weapons testings, and destruction of flora and fauna has all been prohibited. This helps to keep this pristine corner of our earth as untouched as possible. Declarations for the free flow of scientific information and unconditional oversight continue to keep the waters and land free of the pollution that other continents deal with daily. Tourism and economic interests are minimal and help to promote a future healthy Antarctica for future humans.
In a way, Antarctica belongs to everyone. It is one, if not the only, of the last untouched areas on our beautiful planet. If the world can continue to exercise restraint in the development of Antarctica, we can continue to enjoy and learn from this region for years to come.
For more information about the ownership of Antarctica, check out the links below.