Glasgow Digital Library Voyage of the Scotia BRUCE PEOPLE SHIP ANTARCTIC INDEX
Scotland and the Antarctic

Section 7: The legacy of Bruce ... Environmental Problems


Ever since people have been coming to the Antarctic, waste disposal has been a problem. Except for a few early bases which are preserved as historic sites, all the old bases which are no longer in use must be removed from the continent. All waste is removed, except food and human waste. The BAS waste goes to an infill site on the Falkland Islands while hazardous waste (chemicals, old batteries, photographic chemicals) is returned to the UK.
Nuclear material
No nuclear material is now allowed in the Antarctic. The USA had a small plant at McMurdo Sound providing power. This has now been removed at enormous cost.
The sea
One of the greatest threats to the marine environment is shipwreck and subsequent oil spillage. Oil is not easily broken down in the cold environment of the Antarctic.

In January 1989 the Argentine supply ship Bahia Paraiso (which had carried troops to South Georgia during the Falklands War) hit a reef after visiting the American Palmer station (near Port Lockroy). The ship was carrying 81 tourists and 235 crew. Palmer station had 40 personnel and they had to look after the 300-plus people, resulting in the cancellation of their scientific work for the summer.

The ship slipped off the reef and later turned over and sank. An oil slick covered over 100 square kilometres of the Antarctic Ocean. A special US spill team came to plug the oil leaks on the ship and skim over 65,000 litres of fuel off the sea. In 1993 a second salvage operation removed the rest of the fuel from the ship.

The long-term effect was minimal, but in the short term limpet colonies and over 300 sea birds died. Later, some of the birds did not breed or their young died. Today there is no trace of the oil. No oil tankers sail the Antarctic sea - but there was a very serious oil spill in 1989 when Exxon Valdez was wrecked in Arctic Alaska.

Nuclear waste

This is now carried by merchant ships from Europe around Cape Horn to Japan for processing. Although every precaution is taken, they are passing through one of the world's roughest seas with icebergs at certain times of year and a cargo which could contaminate a continent.

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Glasgow Digital Library Voyage of the Scotia BRUCE PEOPLE SHIP ANTARCTIC INDEX