Sewage disposal and wildlife health in Antarctica
Smith, James J. & Riddle, Martin (2009) Sewage disposal and wildlife health in Antarctica. In Kerry, Knowles R. & Riddle, Martin (Eds.) Health of Antarctic Wildlife : A Challenge for Science and Policy. Springer , Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 271-315.
Sewage and its microbiology, treatment and disposal are important to the topic of Antarctic wildlife health because disposal of untreated sewage effluent into the Antarctic marine environment is both allowed and commonplace. Human sewage contains enteric bacteria as normal flora, and has the potential to contain parasites, bacteria and viruses which may prove pathogenic to Antarctic wildlife. Treatment can reduce levels of micro-organisms in sewage effluent, but is not a requirement of the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty (the Madrid Protocol). In contrast, the deliberate release of non-native organisms for any other reason is prohibited. Hence, disposal of sewage effluent to the marine environment is the only activity routinely undertaken in Antarctica knowing that it will likely result in the release of large numbers of potentially non-native species.
When the Madrid Protocol was negotiated, the decision to allow release of untreated sewage effluent was considered the only pragmatic option, as a prohibition would have been costly, and may not have been achievable by many Antarctic operators. In addition, at that time the potential for transmission of pathogens to wildlife from sewage was not emphasised as a significant potential risk. Since then, the transmission of disease-causing agents between species is more widely recognised and it is now timely to consider the risks of continued discharge of sewage effluent in Antarctica and whether there are practical alternatives.
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