Scientists are warning some Antarctic species could be wiped off the map if immediate steps aren't taken to preserve its pristine environment.
Data from a new report by a global team of Antarctic researchers showed the human impacts of fishing and exploration at the South Pole was having a "swift and dramatic" effect on the icy continent.
Research showed that increased tourism and exploration, the risk of introducing invasive species, disturbed wildlife and the spread of pollution from settlements and shipwrecks - of which there have been 12 in the last five years - could lead to the rapid decline of species such as the toothfish and krill.
Marine biologist Mary Sewell told TV ONE's Breakfast this morning that there's a perception that because Antarctica is so far away "that it is safe from the ravages of climate change, fishing and resource pressures".
"And of course the treaty is in place, which was designed to protect Antarctica, but there are some threats that we do need to deal with right now, and that's what we would like to happen," she said.
The group of 26 research scientists were led by Monash University professor Steven Chown in Melbourne, and included Victoria University professor Peter Barrett and also Lou Sanson of Antarctica NZ.
Their research was today published in international journal Science, and laid out a number of threats to the Antarctic region.
The group put the Antarctic Treaty System under the spotlight, looking at how effective it was at conserving one of the world's largest commons from the threats of climate change, technological advancements and the increasing prospect of using the Antarctic's natural resources.
The Antarctic Treaty System encompasses a number of international agreements relating to the governing and conservation of Antarctica.
Using a horizon scanning approach, the researchers found major short-term threats including climate change, marine resource use, ocean acidification, invasive alien species, pollution, habitat alteration, and regulatory challenges within the treaty system.
Chown said the impacts of climate change were particularly worrying.
"Interactions between resource use and climate change are especially significant threats.
"Climate change is increasing the risk of the introduction of non-indigenous species. Several alien species, which have track records of being highly invasive, are already present in the peninsula region and the risks are growing."
The Antarctic 50 years from now
The scientists also looked at the likely situation 50 years from now and found greenhouses gasses would considerably increase ocean acidification, which would be felt worse in the Southern Ocean.
Chown said that the treaty system remained effective, but swifter decision-making and greater collaboration were vital if the Antarctic was to be conserved.
"The quick pace of change in much of the region is under-appreciated. There's warming in the Western Antarctic, changing species distributions, and a quickening in the rate of ice-loss, among other clear signs," he said.
"The early explorers, such as Scott, Mawson and Amundsen would certainly be surprised at what they'd find in Antarctica now and by what's being discussed as possibilities."
He predicted over the longer term, growing tourism and science activities in Antarctica would raise the prospect of permanent human settlement, and interests in resource use would escalate.
"We could lose a lot of what has been special about Antarctica, having visited it myself many times (I can say) it's an incredibly beautiful place and it would be very sad to see it subject to resource taking on a greater scale," Sewell told Breakfast.