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July 1997

Protecting Antarctica's Environment

Nearly 500 tons of discarded vehicles and other machinery that has accumulated around Showa Station in Antarctica during the past 40 years will be brought back to Japan over the next five years. The first batch will be brought back by an expedition team that is leaving for Antarctica in November.

The decision to retrieve the waste was made by the Ministry of Education after a bill requiring stricter conservation efforts in the Antarctic environment was enacted this year.

According to the ministry, 40 vehicles, including 27 snowmobiles and several trucks, and a number of computers have been abandoned around the station since 1966. Some of them were supposed to be recycled, but the tight schedules of research expeditions forced members to leave the items untouched.

The new law, which enables Japan to ratify the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, prohibits animals and plants from being brought into Antarctica except for research purposes and outlaws the capturing of animals.

It also requires that waste be either properly disposed of or brought back from Antarctica and that environmental assessment be carried out for all projects on the continent. Waste from Showa Station should begin reaching Japan during the current fiscal year, which ends in March 1998, prior to ratification of the Environmental Protection Protocol.

Japan's pioneering expedition to Antarctica was conducted in 1912, and full-scale research got underway in the region in 1957 with the establishment of Showa Station on the northern edge of Lutzow-Holm Bay in eastern Queen Maud Land.

A wide range of research activities are now carried out year-round at the station, such as observations of meteorological patterns, auroras, and geomagnetism.

Photo: An aerial view of Japan's Showa Station in summer. (National Institute of Polar Research)