South-African National Antarctic Programme
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About Sanap

How we got involved and why         International Responsibility         Role players         Objectives         Challenges

How we got involved and why.....

South Africa's involvement in Antarctica and the sub-antarctic islands dates back to the earliest voyages of discovery, due to the then Cape of Good Hope's position as a stopover for explorers, whalers and sealers.

After World War II, South Africa became more formally involved, undertaking meteorological expeditions to the Prince Edward Islands. A permanent weather base was established on Marion and the annexation by SA of these islands was concluded in 1948. In 1959 the first South African National Antarctic Expedition (SANAE) was undertaken, establishing a permanent presence on Antarctica that endures to this day.

International responsibility - The treaty.....

South Africa, along with eleven other countries, is a founding member of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. This treaty, of which there are some 45 member nations, establishes the legal framework for the management of the region. Signatories undertake to ensure that the Antarctic region will be used for peaceful and scientific purposes only and to protect and preserve the environment.

Three basic principles are enshrined in the Antarctic Treaty System. To a large degree they account for its success.

  • The continent may be used for peaceful purposes only. All military activities are prohibited; including military manoeuvres, the establishment of military bases, and weapons testing.

  • Scientific investigation and cooperation is promoted. The Treaty emphasises the importance of scientific activities and specifically provides for freedom of access to scientific investigation

  • Territorial claims are placed on hold. The Treaty neither recognises, disputes nor establishes any territorial claim.

Over the years, South Africa has become party to various activities pertaining to the Antarctic, including the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). SCAR is an international body operating within the International Council of Science (ICSU) framework. SANAP, via SCAR, submits an annual report to ECSU. Several South Africans participate in international SCAR working groups, groups of specialists and capacity building programmes to promote the involvement of young scientists.

Key role players.....

In 2003, Cabinet approved the transfer of the scientific research functions of SANAP from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) to the Department of Science and Technology (DST). DEAT however retained responsibility for all logistics and infrastructure. The name of the Department has since been changed to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). The National Research Foundation (NRF) became the agency responsible for grant making on behalf of the DST. SANAP slips neatly into the NRF's vision of bringing knowledge to life, especially its aim of a prosperous South Africa and African continent both steeped in a knowledge culture and proud contributors to the well-being of humanity


SANAP plays a crucial role in conserving this living laboratory - the coldest, windiest and driest place on Earth. Studies done in the Antarctic are inextricably linked to our understanding of the entire Earth system and signals in Antarctica indicate past and future global changes. SANAP recognises the global and national importance of safeguarding the environment of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean and protecting the integrity of ecosystems, both marine and terrestrial, in the region. The programme takes cognizance of the presence of natural resources (both renewable and nonrenewable) and the increased interest in their possible utilisation (both consumptive and non-consumptive).

The new Challenges.....

Funding of Antarctic research has come a long way since The Royal Society of South Africa presented a token 25 pounds to Robert F Scott towards scientific work on his 1913 expedition to Antarctica. South Africa's funding of research connected to the Antarctic received a 30% boost in 2004/2005 and DEA has committed itself to increasing its annual funding.

As of 2005, DEA (then DEAT) and DST have agreed to some exciting additions to the research opportunities offered by SANAP. The research community is challenged to "break the ice" (without the SA Agulhas this time) and thrash out creative ideas and new directions. Researchers in the social sciences (politics, international relations, and sociologists), humanities (literary studies, visual arts and cultural studies) and law (Law of the Sea) as well as engineering can now participate in SANAP.

The new research themes for SANAP are:.....

  • Antarctica: A window into Geospace
  • Climate Variability: Past, Present and Future
  • Biodiversity Responses to Earth System Variability
  • Engineering a Sustainable Presence in Antarctica
  • The History, Sociology and Politics of Antarctic Research and Exploration

As a Biodiversity hotspot, scientific activities in Antarctica, the islands and the Southern Ocean have never been more exciting. The controversial issues of tourism, krill harvesting, bio prospecting and mining, the avenues for law research; the possibility of a virtual national facility or 'Antarctic institute'; the opportunities offered by competitive advantage; the threat of pollution; research into other human impacts and plans to draw industry into the SANAP equation, all presents research opportunities.