Antarctic Treaty System

The Antarctic Treaty

On December 1, 1959, the Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington, with the presence of the twelve countries that had developed scientific activities in and around Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) 1957-1958. It entered into force in 1961, and since then it has been accepted by many other nations, 53 of which are now Parties.

Some important provisions of the Treaty are:

  • Antarctica will be used exclusively for peaceful purposes (art. I).
  • Freedom of scientific research in Antarctica and cooperation to that end […] shall continue (art. II).
  • The Contracting Parties agree to […] exchange observations of scientific results on Antarctica, which shall be freely available (art. III).
  • No act or activity carried out while this Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica or for creating sovereign rights in this region. No new claims to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica shall be made, nor shall claims previously asserted be extended, while this Treaty is in force (art. IV).
  • In order to promote the objectives and ensure compliance with the provisions of the Treaty, “all regions of Antarctica, and all stations, installations and equipment therein … shall at all times be open to inspection” (art. VII).

Related Agreements

The other agreements that make up the system are:

  1. Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCFA, London, 1972)
  2. Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR, Canberra, 1980).
  3. Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty on Environmental Protection (Madrid, 1991).

Although the CCFA and CCAMLR are independent agreements, they contain provisions that represent a commitment by the Parties to essential aspects of the Antarctic Treaty, such as Article IV on the legal status of territorial claims. Only Parties to the Antarctic Treaty may accede to the Protocol on Environmental Protection.

1. Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCFA)

Seal hunting became an important economic activity in the early 19th century and by the 1820s Antarctic seal populations had declined dramatically. The first conservation system applicable to the entire Antarctic was established by the Agreed Measures for the Protection of Fauna and Flora in Antarctica, adopted by the RCTA in 1964. Subsequently, the Advisory Parties drafted the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCFA), which was signed in London on 1 June 1972 and entered into force in 1978.

2. Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)

The adoption of the CCFA in 1972, devoted to an offshore resource, opened the way for consideration of issues related to the possible large-scale exploitation of krill, which could have a major impact on other Antarctic organisms that depend on krill for their food.

The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which was signed in Canberra on 20 May 1980 and entered into force in 1982, deals with the conservation and wise use of Antarctic krill, fish and other marine living resources in the Convention Area. This does not exactly coincide with the Antarctic Treaty Area: the Treaty covers the area south of the 60th parallel, while the Convention also covers the area between the 60th and the Antarctic convergence (natural barrier north of the 60th parallel in some places).

An important feature of CCAMLR is the ecosystem approach to conservation, according to which ecosystem effects must be taken into account in the management of the exploitation of marine resources.

3. The Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty on Environmental Protection

The Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty on Environmental Protection, signed in Madrid on 4 October 1991 and in force since 1998, designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve devoted to peace and science” (art. 2). Article 3 of the Protocol sets out basic principles applicable to human activities in Antarctica. Article 7 prohibits all activities related to mineral resources except those for scientific purposes. Until 2048 the Protocol may be amended only by the unanimous agreement of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties. Furthermore, the ban on mineral resources cannot be revoked unless a legally binding regime on Antarctic mineral resource activities is in place (art. 25.5).

The Protocol has six annexes:

  • Annexes I to IV were adopted in 1991 together with the Protocol and entered into force in 1998.
  • Annex V, on protection and management of areas, was adopted by the XVI RCTA in Bonn in 1991 and entered into force in 2002.
  • Annex VI, on liability for environmental emergencies, was adopted at the XXVIII RCTA in Stockholm in 2005 and will enter into force when approved by all Consultative Parties.

The Protocol established the Committee for the Protection of the Environment (CPA) as a group of experts to provide advice and make recommendations to the RCTA on the implementation of the Protocol. The CPA meets annually on the occasion of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.

Associated Organizations

1. Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR)

SCAR’s mission is to advance research, including observations from Antarctica, and to promote scientific understanding, education and knowledge of the Antarctic region. To this end, SCAR is responsible for initiating and coordinating international research on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean for the benefit of global society. It provides independent and objective scientific information advice to the Antarctic Treaty System and other bodies, and is the main vehicle for the international exchange of information on Antarctica within the scientific community.

Descriptions of SCAR’s activities and scientific results are available at:

2. Meeting of Latin American Antarctic Program Administrators (RAPAL)

RAPAL is a Latin American coordination meeting that takes place annually between Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Ecuador and Peru to deal with scientific, logistical and environmental issues in Antarctica. It originated from meetings between the Antarctic Institutes of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, with its first editions in Buenos Aires (1987), Santiago (1988) and Montevideo (1989). As of 1990, the operators of the Antarctic Programmes of Brazil, Peru and Ecuador were incorporated, and in the most recent editions Colombia and Venezuela have participated as observers.

In these meetings it has been agreed to hold biennial Antarctic Science Congresses in order to share information on the results of the research that Latin American programs have been developing, and thus aim at a greater joint research taking advantage of the scientific and logistical capabilities of the region’s programs.

To date, a total of 29 meetings have been held, which have facilitated coordination and cooperation among countries in the development of Antarctic operations. Important documents have also been prepared with the aim of promoting the protection of the Antarctic environment, safety and Antarctic occupational health, among which the following stand out:

  • Antarctic Accident Prevention Manual
  • Manual on First Aid (Recommendation XXI-12)
  • Antarctic Environmental Protection Guidelines Manual (Recommendation XXIII-2)

On the website it is possible to find the documentation generated in each Meeting, the terms of reference, audiovisual material and contact details, among others.

3. Council of National Antarctic Programme Managers (COMNAP)

COMNAP is the organization in charge of National Antarctic Programmes that brings together, in particular, the national authorities responsible for planning, directing and managing support for Antarctic scientific activities on behalf of their respective governments.

COMNAP is an international association, formed in September 1988, whose Members are the 30 National Antarctic Programmes of: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay. Currently, the National Antarctic Programmes of Canada (from August 2016), Portugal (from August 2015) and Venezuela (from August 2015) are observer organizations of COMNAP.

The purpose of COMNAP is to develop and promote best practices in the management of support for scientific research in Antarctica. As an organization, COMNAP is in charge of adding value to the efforts of National Antarctic Programs, serving as a forum to develop practices that improve the effectiveness of activities in an environmentally responsible manner, facilitating and promoting international alliances, and providing opportunities and systems for the exchange of information.

COMNAP strives to provide the Antarctic Treaty System with both objective, practical, technical and apolitical advice and first-hand knowledge of Antarctica provided by the broad group of National Antarctic Programme experts.

Source: Antarctic Treaty Secretariat


Tratado Antártico Original
Anexo I
Anexo II
Anexo III
Anexo IV
Anexo V
Protocolo de Madrid