Exploitation of mineral resources is an important driver of change in
many areas of the Arctic, including northern Canada, Alaska, Norway
and Russia. There has been increasing interest in exploiting hydrocarbon
resources in the Arctic, motivated by higher oil prices, and a geopolitical
trend towards diversification in sources of oil supply. Development
pressure is also increasing, with the building of new roads, oil and
gas infrastructure, holiday cabins, and new military training grounds,
all contributing to the fragmentation of wilderness areas (Nellemann
and Vistnes 2002, Nellemann and others 2002). Environmental impacts
can be direct and obvious in the event of oil spills, or indirect, such
as pipelines, roads and power transmission lines, which, with spreading
human settlements, fragment natural habitats.
In the latest release of the United Nations List of Protected Areas
a significant increase in the protected areas of key Arctic biomes was
reported (Chape and others 2003). In particular, the proportion of tundra
listed as protected has increased from 8.4 per cent in 1997 to 11.8
per cent in 2003. Significant new protected areas were also declared
in Svalbard and northern Canada during the year.
However, the protected areas are distributed unevenly across Arctic
countries and biogeographic zones, and levels and effectiveness of protection
vary. The size of some areas is not enough to sustain biodiversity or
the traditional lifestyles of indigenous peoples.
In the Antarctic the management regime has evolved quite differently,
and implicitly builds on international coordination through the Antarctic
Treaty System. The main, and substantial, challenges presented from
exploitation of natural resources come from the fishing fleet operating
in the Southern Ocean, and the threat to the marine ecosystems from
illegal, unregulated and unreported activities.