German scientist Manfred Reinke was elected executive secretary of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat at the conclusion of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in the United States in April, and he starts on Aug 1. He faces a difficult 4-year term, as 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of the Treaty, and 11 countries have claimed sovereignty over parts of Antarctica to secure the contiguous offshore oil, gas and mineral rights. And taxing environmental issues threaten the health of the South Pole.
Reinke, from the Bremen-based Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, takes over as executive secretary from Johannes Huber from the Netherlands. The main purpose of the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed in Washington on 1 Dec 1959, is to ensure "in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue for ever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord. In the treaty, which was ratified on 23 Jun 1961 by 48 countries, Antarctica is defined as all land and ice shelves south of 60 degrees south latitude. Increasing tourism and global warming threaten the health of the South Pole. A new report shows that the ice shelves are shrinking, leaving more seabed to fight over. Ten Chilean and Argentine lawmakers gathered in the Antarctic to stake territorial rights after Britain claimed a wide swath of ocean bottom off the frozen continent. Chile and Argentina's territorial rights claims came in response to a British bid submitted to the United Nations in Oct 2007 for sovereignty over more than 385,000 square miles of seabed off Antarctica. Other nations asserting claims over the seas around Antarctica include Russia, Brazil, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, France, Spain and Norway. The Antarctic Treaty Secretariat is based in Buenos Aires. May/09
Date written/update: 2009-01-08