The trouble with the continent of Antarctica is that it has no official flag because few desire to live there, and it makes sense as to why. The continent is the coldest, driest location in the world. The landscape of Antarctica is a massive, dry desert topped with ice and snow, featuring glaciers and the occasional penguin or polar bear. Overall, though, humans are nowhere to be found. One fun fact about Antarctica is that the lowest temperature ever recorded on the continent measured -128.6ºF. Simply put, the conditions in Antarctica are not livable.
Who Owns Antarctica?
Antarctica is a de facto condominium, meaning that multiple countries have jointly claimed authority over the continent. In 1959, twelve countries signed the Antarctic Treaty. The treaty outlined regulations against mining, nuclear waste and weaponry, and military action. Furthermore, the Antarctic Treaty promoted scientific research and the protection of Antarctica’s climate and wildlife. Over several decades, 38 additional countries signed the treaty.
Despite the number of participants in the Antarctic Treaty, only seven countries have claimed rights to certain territories within the continent. Experts use these territories primarily to conduct scientific research, according to the treaty’s regulations. For instance, France has laid claim to the Adelie Land, which is home to a prominent number of Adelie penguins.
The Flag of Antarctica
While flags typically unify citizens of a country or promote a strong national identity, Antarctica’s flag represents conservation and scientific research. The difference in significance between flags of other countries and the flag of Antarctica is due to Antarctica’s lack of government, self-sovereignty, and population. The Antarctic Treaty Organization approved a flag in 2002 to unofficially represent the continent. However, they have considered other flag designs. One flag, designed by Graham Bartram, includes a blue background with Antarctica’s geographic shape in the center, colored white. The simplicity of the flag and the incorporation of Antarctica’s geographic image communicates Antarctica’s lack of authoritative government, as it is simply a continent and landmass.
Another flag by Whitney Smith appears orange with several images on the lefthand side shown in the color white. The images depict two hands holding a bowl-shaped semi-circle. On top of the bowl, sits a large letter A. Expectedly, the A stands for Antarctica. However, the bowl-looking image represents the lowest portion of the Earth’s surface, where Antarctica lies. The cupped hands in the image symbolize nonviolence by humanity toward Antarctica. The white color of these images represents Antarctica’s snow and ice while the orange background promotes high visibility of the flag.
Although both flag designs remained in the public eye for a significant period, focus shifted away from these representations when Evan Townsend created True South flag at an Antarctic research station in 2018. True South is a recent addition to Antarctica’s flag designs, and it seems to hold as much, if not more, significance for the continent than other designs. What makes Townsend’s flag stand out from other designs is that he included the Antarctic community’s opinion in his design. It appears Townsend’s design has become more prominent and accepted than the designs of his peers. In fact, many organizations and institutions that support Antarctic programs have come to recognize True South as the continent’s formal flag.
Plenty of thought went into the creation of True South. The flag had to appear as neutral as possible because many countries have laid claim over Antarctica. Therefore, Townsend included only two colors on the flag: white and blue. This specific shade of blue is unique to the Antarctica flag. In this way, True South avoids allegiance to any one nation or ruler. White and blue also signify the two colors that are most associated with Antarctica: ice and snow, sky and ocean, respectively.
The design of True South features a dark blue and white panel, divided horizontally. The two panels signify the length of days and nights in Antarctica. A white diamond sits in the upper half of the flag, which represents mountains and icebergs. Below the white diamond is a dark blue compass arrow that points downward, representing the southward location of Antarctica. True South became an effort to bring attention to conservation and research within Antarctica while paying homage to the Antarctic community.
Other Flags in Antarctica
Although not official, several flags have flown in the Antarctic region. National flags have been placed around the continent as a sign of achievement in the areas of exploration and research. Countries that have claimed territory in Antarctica, such as Britain, have designed and placed Antarctic territory flags throughout the continent.
Furthermore, historical expedition flags flew when ambassadors from different countries came to explore this mysterious continent. For instance, Jessie Bruce designed the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition Flag. Her husband, William Bruce, used it from 1902 to 1904 when he ventured to Antarctica in search of new discoveries.
Sledge flags made their first appearance in 1850 when British explorers went to recover Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition. Sledge flags were modeled after flags used by the navy, since the Royal Navy was sent on the recovery expedition. The use of sledge flags became a tradition for British explorers, but their use eventually faded into history.
Antarctic marker flags are solid-colored flags within reflective patches that mark trails, sites, and depots within the continent. The use of these flags helps explorers and researchers to identify these locations. Flag colors have certain meanings that communicate to an explorer or researcher information about safety. However, other flag meanings have arose and changed over time according to circumstances. For example, red and green flags signify safety on certain paths while black flags represent danger.
A Flag to Go Down in History
The White Flag of Antarctica is a historical flag that was flown by the RRS Discovery, which was a ship that ventured to Antarctica between 1929 and 1931. The British, Australian, and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, nicknamed BANZARE, flew the white flag on their ship to maintain neutrality and to recognize Antarctica’s lack of political authority and sovereignty. BANZARE’s recognition of Antarctica as a non-political continent reflects the same acknowledgement made by Townsend’s True South design. Therefore, it appears that the attitude that Antarctica should remain solely a place for research and conservation is not a new or a profound opinion. Rather, this attitude is one that has traversed centuries and seems obvious to researchers and explorers.
Conservation in Antarctica
Although Antarctica is a highly protected area in current times, it wasn’t always this way. Historically, animals living in and near the continent were threatened by hunters. In addition, Antarctica acted as a landfill for a time. However, people began to realize the effects that resulted from humanity’s disregard for Antarctica’s environment. The Madrid Protocol on Environmental Protection outlined regulations that helped to preserve Antarctica’s wildlife, and the usage of Antarctica’s landmass as a garbage pile came to an end.
Another important factor in Antarctica’s conservation is wildlife. While some Antarctic animals remain of least concern, such as the southern elephant seal and the northern giant petrel, others are near threatened, threatened, or endangered. Conservation of these animals plays a crucial role in the conservation of the entire continent. Each animal adds invaluable benefits to Antarctica, such as population stabilization and natural beauty. Some endangered and critically endangered Antarctic animals are listed below:
- Blue Whale
- Northern Royal Albatross
- Fin Whale
- Sooty Albatross
- Sei Whale
- Amsterdam Albatross (population number: 170)
- Tristan Albatross (population number: 7,100)
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
How cold is Antarctica?
Antarctica is the coldest location on Earth. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica measures -128.6ºF.
Why doesn’t Antarctica have an official flag?
Antarctica has no official flag because it has no government, self-sovereignty, or sizeable population.
Is Antarctica susceptible to climate change?
Climate change greatly affects Antarctica’s environment and the wildlife that live there.
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- Lize-Marié van der Watt, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/place/Antarctica
- American Flags, Available here: https://www.americanflags.com/blog/post/flags-of-antarctica
- Olivia Harden, Available here: https://matadornetwork.com/read/antarcticas-new-flag-hopes-bring-attention-fragile-continent/
- True South Flag, Available here: https://www.truesouthflag.com/flags-of-antarctica
- Royal Museums Greenwich, Available here: https://www.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/rmgc-object-895
- Discovering Antarctica, Available here: https://discoveringantarctica.org.uk/how-is-antarctica-governed/geopolitics/conservation/
- Cool Antarctica, Available here: https://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/endangered_antarctic_animals.php