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National marine environmental protection regimes that cover significant portions of Arctic waters constitute a fragmented system of governance, with large gaps in jurisdiction, implementation and effectiveness. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), meanwhile, includes environmental rules inadequate to protect the ice oceans, she says.

"Despite the applicability of many global and regional treaties concerned with the protection of the arctic marine environment and effective management of shipping issues by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), there are many problems that require attention. There is a need for an arctic ship routing system, traffic separation schemes, and use of Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT). Due to their vulnerability, arctic waters require very strict standards for ballast water exchange, fuel content, discharge and emission. There should be internationally binding standards for construction, design, equipment and manning of ships," says Dr. Saksina.

"There is an urgent need for a comprehensive international environmental regime specially tailored for the unique arctic conditions. This regime is needed before natural resource development expands widely. The earliest date of summer Arctic Ocean without ice may be 2013. The longer the delay in developing international environmental rules, the more likely it is that unplanned and unregulated development will damage the very resources most necessary for a sustainable future in the Arctic. There is no time to waste and no reason to wait."

Antarctic Tourists and Researchers

Conference chairman Dr. David Leary of UNU-IAS notes that the Madrid Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty commits signatories to avoid changing distribution, abundance or productivity of Antarctica's fauna and flora, to jeopardize endangered or threatened species or to degrade or create substantial risk to areas of biological, scientific, historic, aesthetic or wilderness significance.

It also commits signatories to guard against importation of non-sterile soil and the introduction of non-native species and micro-organisms (e.g., viruses, bacteria, parasites, yeasts, fungi).

In the Antarctic, however, tourist activities can compromise the region due to seeds, invertebrates and soil in their clothing and footwear, and in their provisions and equipment, says Dr. Leary. As well, visitors may introduce and spread infectious disease-causing agents through, for example, interactions with wildlife and leaving behind organic wastes.

According to a 2005 UNEP report: "Governments may be reluctant to impose thorough quarantine controls on tourists for fear of damaging the industry … [and] tourists are likely to be moving between similar sites (for example, wildlife viewing areas), increasing the risk of spreading invasive alien species."

It also notes that "researchers may pose a particular risk to biodiversity because they have access to sites of high conservation value that may be closed to the general public, and may carry equipment or organisms to those sites."

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