The Dec. 6th, news about the shipwreck near King Sejong Station on Antarctica shocked us. Koreans expressed regret and encouraged the researchers.
Research on the Antarctic continent is not only for meeting scientific curiosities but also is the arena of the struggle for control of huge natural resources. The existence of extremophiles (microorganisms that live in extreme surroundings) in this continent, has attracted the world attention and placed great importance on this Antarctic life. By researching extremophiles, we can find the keys of producing new medicine and cosmetics, and how to better store food.
Extremophiles offer modern society many benefits but we must not disrupt Antarctica's ecosystem, which could endanger some species. And that is one reason why the world wants to preserve Antarctica's environment. In March, Korea put into law the Activity & Preservation Environment of the Antarctic.
The Post interviewed Dr. Ahn In-young, Principle Research Scientist at Korea Ocean R&D Institute (KORDI) Polar Sciences Lab. and a core figure in formulating the law...................................................................Ed.
Part 1. The Present Condition of Antarctica
The Post : Please describe the location and landmass of Antarctica.
Ahn : Antarctica includes the continent and ocean around the South Pole. Internationally, Antarctica is defined as the area of 60 degrees south latitude and southward.
The Post : Tell us about the current condition of Antarctic development.
Ahn : To begin with, the word "development" does not apply to Antarctica, nor does "Resources Exploration." We want to conserve of the continent, not develop it. Now, we only do scientific research on Antarctica.
The Post : Why is the world so interested in Antarctica?
Ahn : There are many factors. The first is that Antarctica is a continent. It's important to make international agreements on the conservation of it. The World Powers will be going to take possession of it. Next, Antarctic ice contains climate records going back to the birth of the earth. This is the Antarctic's scientific value.
Part 2. The Antarctic Treaty
The Post : When did the world recognize the need to protect Antarctica?
Ahn : Beginning with the Antarctic explorations between 1895 and 1922, the South Pole entered international political debates. At first, the UK insisted the Antarctic was her possession. Soon, countries nearby -- Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia -- followed the UK. Subsequently, seven nations including Norway, France, which had explored the continent, claimed their right of possession for it.
During 1957-1958, International Geophysical Year (IGY) was established, and it had nations related each others established research stations on Antarctica. At the end of IGY in 1958, the USA suggested an international treaty to preserve the Antarctic environment and that would permit only scientific research. So, the Antarctic Treaty (AT) was signed in 1959 by 12 countries including the USA and became effective in 1962.
The Post : What are the essentials of the AT?
Ahn : The fundamental principles of AT are as follows.
1) Antarctica should be used just for peaceful aims.
2) Any military activities such as setting up military equipment and testing nuclear weapons are forbidden.
3) It is sanctioned for all kinds of scientific research.
The Post : Are there any other agreements?
Ahn : Yes. In 1991, Protocol on Environmental Protection for the Antarctic Treaty was sealed and it completed the AT. The chief principle of the protocol, which went into effect in Madrid in 1998, forbids development of Antarctic mineral resources for the next 50 years. And the ban won't be changed unless the related nation unanimously agree to do so.
The Convention for the Conservation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR, 1980, Canberra) is supervising the interval ocean from 60 degrees to 45 degrees south latitude. And there are other related organizations like SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research), COMNAP (Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs), and others that make up the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS).
Part 3. Korea's Law for Use & Preservation of the Environment of Antarctic
The Post : When did Korea join the international convention?
Ahn : Korea joined the AT in 1986 and SCAR in 1987. In 1988, KORDI established King Sejong Station. And finally, in 1989, Korea became a member of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Party (ATCP).
The Post : I heard that Korea has a law concerning the Antarctica environment and that the National Assembly already passed it?
Ahn : A domestic law to protect the Antarctic environment was passed this March. We have to fomulate the law in order to execute obligations of the AT. But Korea hasn't legislated a domestic law and this caused international problems.
The Post : What is the gist of the law?
Ahn : The law pretests the Antarctic environment and ecosystem in order to practically use the environment for scientific research. The law also limits development in Antarctica as stipulated in the ATS.
The Post : When will Korea effectuate the law?
Ahn : Compared to other countries, Korea is tardy in the legislation of the law, but it was promulgated in Mar. 22nd. So after 6 months, it will be effectuated.
After the end of the Cold War, environmental problems became more important all over the world. For this reason, most issues about Antarctica are concerning protection and conservation. Korea should take part in international actions to preserve the environment of the Antarctic as well as conservation of the earth as an ATCP member. Through those efforts, Korea will elevate its political and diplomatic position.
"Even though Korea's Antarctic research started only 20 years ago, the scholastic level is pretty high compared to other advanced parties. I look forward to more progressive activities," ended Dr. Ahn.
1. UN experts warn that international agreements are needed to ban random gathering of extremophies, which can be used for commercial aims.
2. Antarctica : Seven nations claim possession, but other nations don't recognize their claims.
3. The Antarctic continent is controled by 45 nations, all signatories to the AT. But experts pointed out that this treaty doesn't restrict gene resources.
4. Year-round Research Station
5. 1,000 km / 620 miles
6. In 1997, Russia registered the patent. (anti-cancer ability of Black yeast)
7. In 2002, Spain registered the patent. (wound healing ability of sugar-protein, extracted from Antarctic bacterium)
8. In 2002, Germany registered the patent. (cosmetic material which can be extracted from Antarctic green-algoid)
9. In 2004, American patent pending. (anti-freezing material -- lengthening of storage-time of ice cream and freezing vegetables -- from Antarctic bacterium)
Korean Law on Activities & Preservation of the Antarctic Environment
1. It bans all military actions, testing of nuclear weapons, and destroy of on Antarctica's environment. (clause 3)
2. Permission is needed from the Minister of Foreign Affair and Trade (MOFAT) in order to research, set up equipment, explore, and travel, etc. in the Antarctic area. (clause 4 and 11)
3. To meet with the minister's approval, applicants should submit Antarctic Activity Plan, Environment Effect Valuation. (clause 5 and 7)
4. Approval is needed when performing any actions which could cause serious damage to Antarctic animals and plants. (clause 13)
5. MOFAT can appoint a watchman to protect the Antarctic environment and to secure Korean Antarctic activities. (clause 18)
6. Government should establish a plan to promote Antarctic Research. (clause 21)
Profile of Interviewee, Ahn In-young
1990. Ph D. from State Univ. of New York at Stony Brook
1991. Research at King Sejong Station (9 times)
1997-2004. The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Member (ATCM), Korean Representative Environmental Advisor
2004. Principal Research Scientist of KORDI Polar Science Lab.
Kim Sung-ho email@example.com
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