Geoecology and Historical Heritage in the Ice-Free Area of Elephant Point (Antarctica). Proposal for Future Environmental Protection

The Antarctic Treaty provides the general environmental policies for all areas south of parallel 60 degrees S. In addition, some enclaves have a higher degree of environmental protection regulated by three categories: Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPA), Antarctic Specially Managed Areas and Historic Sites or Monuments. Most of the protected areas in Antarctica have been designated based on the national geopolitical strategies, giving special attention to those areas where access and logistics are easier. This paper focuses on Elephant Point (Livingston, South Shetland Islands), an ice-free area of 1.16 km2 where activities are only regulated by the Antarctic Treaty System and no further environmental protection exists. By using a geoecological approach based on the geomorphology together with the distribution of the fauna and flora existing in the area, we have distinguished six geoecological environments in Elephant Point: Rotch glacier, proglacial environment, moraine system, bedrock plateaus, marine terraces and present-day beach. The distribution of fauna and flora is highly conditioned by the age of deglaciation as well as by the glacial, paraglacial and periglacial geomorphological landforms and processes. Besides this, five well preserved archaeological sites have been found in Elephant Point. These sites were used for sealers and whalers who sailed across the Maritime Antarctic during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The rich biodiversity together with the high geomorphological and historical significance of this peninsula within the Maritime Antarctic constitutes the scientific basis to propose Elephant Point to be designated an ASPA in order to preserve the unique scientific heritage existing in this small peninsula.

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