"We need to unify the proposals like Latin America within the Antarctic Treaty"

Last Friday, the Meeting of Administrators of Latin American Antarctic Programs (RAPAL) ended in the capital of Ecuador, Quito. The meeting aimed to strengthen Latin American ties in the southernmost and coldest place on the planet. In an exclusive interview with Page 12, the director of the Argentine Antarctic Institute, Patricia Ortúzar, explains the importance of the meeting regarding cooperation between Latin American countries. “An exchange is made about the campaigns that concluded the previous year and the following campaign. The purpose of this exchange is also to foster coordination among the Latin American countries, which exists and is abundant. This cooperation occurs both in terms of science and logistical support, ”says Ortúzar.

On the other hand, the polar geographer highlights the importance of a unification of proposals at the regional level, compared to future forums of the Antarctic Treaty that include the other countries of the globe that have a voice regarding this part of the world. “This allows us to consolidate and bring together positions at the regional level, so that, as Latin America, we have identified what our common positions are as a region with respect to certain lines or ongoing debates within the Antarctic Treaty,” says Ortúzar.

“These meetings enhance that collaboration because there is a lot of difference in the development of different Latin American programs. Argentina’s Antarctic program is 118 years old and has a total of seven permanent bases and six summer bases, in addition to naval and air facilities,” Ortúzar explains the context in which there are differences between programs both in Latin America and in other parts of the world in the Antarctica. “There are Antarctic programs that have a much more limited deployment. So, what is sought is to strengthen these cooperation ties so that these countries can also join and develop scientific projects and also have a growth within their role in the Antarctic Treaty system” he adds.

The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 in the US capital, Washington, with the aim of ensuring freedom of scientific research and promoting international cooperation for scientific purposes in Antarctica and to ensure that the world’s southernmost continent had Exclusively peaceful uses. The Treaty was signed by Argentina, Belgium, Australia, the United States, Chile, France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan, Norway, South Africa and the then Soviet Union.

A more Latin American Antarctica

In this context of Latin American cooperation, Ortúzar says that three countries were added as observers to RAPAL, they are Venezuela, Colombia and Costa Rica, very recently. These three countries have the category of adherents to the Antarctic Treaty, which gives them the possibility of presenting documents with information, but does not allow them to present proposals, that is, they have a voice, but not a vote.

The geographer highlights the importance of this type of country that joins as observers since it allows joint investigations or logistics operations to be carried out. “With Colombia, for example, last year we had three cooperation projects in two of our Antarctic bases, in Base Marambio and Base Decepción. For us it is not an impediment to cooperate, what is more, we seek to cooperate even with observers or with countries that are not full or consultative members of the Antarctic Treaty because we want to generate this Latin American strengthening”, highlights Ortúzar.

The agenda of the RAPAL

According to the geographer, although there are themes that are repeated every year at the meeting, there were two new themes, regarding plastic pollution and the gender issue in Antarctica. “This year several delegations commented on our initiatives and progress on gender issues in Antarctica, which historically was a male environment. Over the years, gender parity was much more noticeable in the sciences, but very recently women began to be incorporated into the logistics part,” the director stated.

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The other urgent issue is the pollution generated by plastics in the Antarctic territories and seas. According to Ortúzar, it is a topic that is present in all the Antarctic forums and that it was inevitable that it be dealt with in RAPAL. The specialist highlighted their intentions to cooperate to lead initiatives that try to minimize plastic pollution.

plastics in the seas

The director of the Argentine Antarctic Institute establishes that there are two sources of contamination, one of them is generated by the bases, and the other comes from other parts of the world. “What is being studied is that there are microplastics that are already being detected in Antarctica but that were generated in other latitudes and that ocean currents end up carrying them towards Antarctica. These microplastics are later incorporated into the food chain, especially from marine fauna”, remarks the geographer.

Beyond the fact that the presence is not seen with the naked eye, the scholar stresses the importance of taking initiatives to stop this situation. “What is being detected in microplastics is through analysis. However, it is still a major problem. Because, it is beginning to be studied now, but obviously that is going to continue and there will be more and more arrivals of this type of microplastics in Antarctica due to such an amount of contamination worldwide,” explains Ortúzar.

As for the other source of contamination, that generated by the bases, the director explains that, compared to those generated worldwide, they are few, although there are several initiatives that are being developed to avoid it. “At the local level, there is much that can be done, but this has to be accompanied by regulations that support or facilitate this transition. For example, one of the things that we already limit, because it also arose from a resolution of the Antarctic Treaty, is that the personnel who go to Antarctica, can no longer transport cosmetic products with micro plastics”, she remarks.

On the other hand, it highlights the importance of the commitment of all parties to reduce the amount of plastics that are taken to the sixth continent. “What a path means not only for Argentina but for all the countries involved is to start reducing the plastic content of the cargo that is carried or to have a more active policy of, for example, what are called sustainable public purchases. “, He says. Ortúzar refers to the fact that, in the bidding instances, products that have less plastic in their presentations are chosen.

RAPAL was an Argentine idea

“This is the 33rd meeting of RAPAL and it comes from the idea of ​​Argentina. The General and explorer, Jorge Edgardo Leal, was the one who had the idea of ​​generating this Latin American meeting, who was also the national director of the Antarctic and conductor of Operation 90 of the Antarctic”, says Ortúzar. Operation 90 was carried out in 1965, under the government of Arturo Illia, and had the objective of carrying out an expedition to the south pole of Antarctica. The operation was named that way because of the 90 degrees south of latitude that the south pole has. “We are proud that 33 years later, an Argentine initiative is still working and bearing fruit today.”

Report: Sofia Troiano

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