Compliance with Antarctic Protocol

With almost 2 decades of operational experience in Antarctica, we have an in depth understanding of what is truly required to protect the unique and sensitive Antarctic environment. This page summarises our approach.

Environmental governance in Antarctica is unique; there are no nations or states in Antarctica.

The Antarctic Treaty was first signed by twelve nations in 1959 and forty-six countries, comprising around 80% of the world’s population, have now acceded to it.

The environment across the entire continent in protected under the “Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty” which designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”. The protocol was signed in Madrid in 1991 and came into force in 1998.

It is also referred to as the Madrid Protocol, Antarctic Protocol, and the Environmental Protocol. Under Article 8, all activities are required to undergo an environmental impact assessment prior to being undertaken.  All activities must be assessed as; (a) less than a minor or transitory impact; (b) a minor or transitory impact; or (c) more than a minor or transitory impact and only those with a “less than minor or transitory impact” can proceed.

The Treaty and Protocol remains in force indefinitely. Neither the Protocol, nor the Antarctic Treaty, have a termination date. For the first fifty years from the Protocol’s entry into force (1998), it can only be modified by the unanimous agreement of all Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty. After this point (from 2048), any of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties can call for a review conference into the Protocol’s operation (Art. 25.2).

All our operations are required to be carried out in strict accordance with the Antarctic Protocol, resolutions and ATCM guidelines related to our operations.

  • Antarctic Permit

    As well as an environmental impact assessment (known as Initial Environmental Evaluations) an Antarctic Permit is required to be obtained in advance from the relevant Competent Authority. White Desert’s Antarctic Permit is issued by the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). It explicitly states that we may not have more than a ‘minor or transitory’ impact on the Antarctic environment.

  • IAATO Membership

    The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) is an international member organisation comprised of more than 100 member organisations. IAATO’s mission is to advocate, promote and practice safe and environmentally responsible private sector tourism to the Antarctic. White Desert has been a long-standing member of IAATO, first joining in 2007. We have helped shaped tourism policy and lead environmental policy in relation to Climate Change. As members we follow IAATO by-laws, field operational manual and tourism guidelines designed to protect the Antarctic environment. IAATO guidance covers all aspects related to tourism from climate change, bio-security, to wildlife watching guidelines.

  • Environmental Impact Assessment Process and IEE

    White Desert has been recognised for our ongoing efforts to protect Antarctica and was commended at the 2017 Environmental Impact Awards for ‘Team of the Year’ and ‘Project of the Year Award’ for our published Initial Environmental Evaluation where we outlined our environmental methodology which shows how we determined the less than a minor or transitory impact.

Impacting change

We take pride in contributing to shaping areas of policy implementation. Working with a number of influential stakeholders in the Antarctic community, we look across multiple platforms to reduce impacts, self-regulate and safeguard the environmental legacy of Antarctica.

  • Patrick Woodhead, our Founder and CEO, has been part of the UK government delegation at Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings on aviation matters, as well as Council of Management of National Antarctic Programmes (COMNAP).
  • White Desert employs a specialist Environmental Consultant who shapes internal policy, inspects and advises on all our logistics and systems, and is tasked with continuously reducing our environmental footprint.
  • White Desert has a seat on the Sustainability Council of Virtuoso Travel Network, a grouping of over 20,000 travel advisors around the world.
  • Robyn Woodhead, Co-Founder of White Desert, sat as the Chair of the Executive and Climate Change Committees of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) from May 2021 – May 2022.
  • Robyn has played a leadership role at IAATO sitting on the Executive Committee, and during her tenure as Chair. 
  • White Desert provides inputs into ATCM consultation documents which relate to tourism and environmental governance through IAATO as well as the FCDO
  • Sustainable Aviation Fuel

    In a landmark first for any Antarctic operator, White Desert trialled the first test quantity of 40,000 litres of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in Antarctica.

  • Operational Areas

    White Desert's operational areas include deep field camps, fuel depot, Atka Bay and Wolf's Fang Runway. Discover the terrain and unique fauna that inhabit each environment.

  • Sustainability

    From inception to implementation, we always have our environmental footprint in mind to preserve the delicate equilibrium of this unique wilderness.

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