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  • Writer's pictureLouise Delhaye

Belgium helps create a new protected area in Antarctica

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

No fewer than 41 countries and 9 organizations met in Helsinki from 29 May to 8 June for the 45th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. Among the decisions taken was the creation of an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) at Belgium's request. This zone, which is located in the Western Sør Rondane Moutains near the Princess Elisabeth Station (Dronning Maud Land), is now prohibited to all non-scientific and touristic activities because of the outstanding value of its microbial communities (microalgae, bacteria, cyanobacteria, fungi....) that are growing in hostile conditions on nunataks (a rocky peak rising above the ice sheets), ridges and valleys. In addition, the esthetic and wilderness values of the sites will be protected. This zone joins the 78 other ASPAs created as of 2021, from Mount Erebus to the wreck of the Endurance.

The Princess Elisabeth station in a distance. Credits: Marie Cavitte.

The proposed area includes seven different sites where studies on biological diversity have been carried out since the creation of the scientific base, in 2007. As a basis for this request from Belgium, two papers in preparation from APECS member Valentina Savaglia, PhD student at UGent and ULiège, are cited [1,2] (see full report here). The aim of these articles is to make a census of the microbial, bacterial and microeukaryotic biodiversity in this area which is, as pointed out by Valentina, rather unique and should, as such, be protected.

The land around Princess Elisabeth station. Credits: Marie Cavitte.

[1] Savaglia, V., Durieu B., Tytgat B., Elster J., Vyverman W., Verleyen E., Wilmotte A. (in preparation): Soil substrates drives cyanobacterial diversity in the Sor Rondane Mountains, East Antarctica.

[2] Savaglia, V., Lambrechts, S., Tytgat, B., Vanhellemont, Q., Elster, J., Willems, A., Wilmotte, A., Verleyen, E., Vyverman, W. (in preparation). Geology defines microbiome structure and composition in nunataks and valleys of the Sør Rondane Mountains, East Antarctica.

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