Base Installations

Other than inland stations, permanent and seasonal or temporary bases are preferentially situated on snow- and ice-free reasonably level areas close to the sea. Such places are almost invariably occupied by bird colonies and/or plant communities (e.g., Capes Adare, Hallett, Bird, Royds and Evans), and displacement of the original colonists as well as some other environmental interference is inevitable (e.g., Johnston, 1971). Around all bases, there is an accumulation of both organic and inorganic waste (e.g., Cameron, 1972; Cameron et al., 1977; Lipps, 1978). Environmental contamination and pollution is an acknowledged consequence. Today, for Antarctic sites, both casual and controlled landfill dumping is as unacceptable as is the still common practice of indiscriminate annual disposal of obsolete and worn-out equipment, discarded packaging and other waste by piling it on the sea ice. With the seasonal ice breakout, it disappears — out of sight out of mind seems an accepted credo. On the other hand, it is perhaps ironic to note that otherwise aesthetically distasteful rubbish scattered around "Heroic" era huts is to many considered of historic importance, and deserving of protection. Is there a contradiction here — what are we going to leave to future generations of industrial age archaeologists? Of the pelagic whaling which took place around the Ross Sea in the 1920s, there remains no visible testimony.

Most observers find sewage disposal at Antarctic bases a vexatious issue. Release of human wastes, whether untreated, "blended" and macerated, or treated, is viewed with much distaste. Of more immediate concern should be toxic chemical wastes. Manheim (1988) has noted unacceptable heavy metal concentrations in waters off McMurdo base. At outfalls, marine ecosystems will be stressed and biologically impoverished aureoles may develop. Tyler (1972), in discussing sewage treatment at McMurdo Sound, suggested that it is simply a change to something more aesthetically acceptable to delicate human senses. It is perhaps a simplistic overstatement to note that the excreta of some 1,500 Weddell Seals are absorbed into the McMurdo Sound marine ecosystem. At the turn of the century, they were more numerous (Testa and Siniff, 1987). Is there any reason to believe that base populations (reaching summer maxima of c. 1,000) will cause any great environmental perturbation other than that localized at outfalls. Microbial breakdown processes are surely the same for all mammalian wastes. Recent observations by Venkatesan et al. (1986) indicate coprostanols in McMurdo Sound sediment cores are not necessarily evidence of human sewage contamination, but a biomarker for marine mammals.

With the exeption of dead clams in Winter Quarters Bay described previously, it has yet to be established if pollution from the McMurdo Sound bases has harmed the local biota. The observed decline in local Weddell Seal populations may have an independent cause.

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