Avid readers of the YPT blog will remember we discussed the rules for collecting countries and where Antarctica fits in. Many of you will have filled in maps on your Facebook to show the exact countries you have been to, and what’s still left, but if you go to fill in Antarctica it isn’t an option. This leaves us with the conundrum that you may have visited an entire continent that does not show up as a place you visited. So is Antarctica a country? The simple answer is no, Antarctica is not a country but a continent.
What country is Antarctica in?
Except for the good people of Bir Tawil, we are used to a world where land is claimed as territory of any given sovereign nation. But Antarctica is not officially part of any country. You can get there by ships from Ushuaia in Argentina, as well as Punta Arenas in Chile, Hobart in Australia and the South Island in New Zealand.
Antarctica is therefore not a country and you do not need a visa to get there.
So who owns Antarctica?
But, Antarctica is claimed by seven different nations. Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom each laid claim to bits of the continent, some of which overlap, from the 19th century through to the middle of the 20th century.
But these countries clearly couldn’t send military bases to protect their claims and invade other bits, so in 1959 the Antarctic Treaty System was put in place, whereby all these countries plus others agreed to share the continent. It prohibits military use, mining, and bans nuclear testing or dumping and encourages scientific research and ecological protection.
Antarctica is thus not a country, but a condominium, where multiple nations agree to share rights rather than divide it into national spheres. Although it is entirely possible that in the coming years and decades as Antarctica is generally more accessible and countries like the USA, China and Russia as well as the EU compete with each other more strenuously that we could see tensions on the South Pole rise.
Does anyone live in Antarctica?
Nobody lives in Antarctica permanently, but there are numerous science bases where researchers live for parts of the year, ranging anywhere from 1000-5000 people at any given time but with more during the austral summer. There are no settlements or towns.
Antarctica was also one of the only parts of the world never peopled by homo sapiens. By the time we started spreading across the globe Antarctica had split from the other continents and was not reached at any point until the first humans saw it in the 19th century.
Who discovered Antarctica?
In the 18th century, Captain Cook believed it probable there was a polar landmass in the southern oceans, but it wasn’t until around 1820 that is was spotted by three captains; Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen of the Russian Imperial Navy, Edward Bransfield of the British navy, and Nathaniel Palmer, a sealer from the USA.
During the 19th century It remained all but inaccessible to humans however, because of the harsh climate and risks of getting there.
It was not always the frozen continent we imagine today though, during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods the continent was part of the supercontinent of Gondwana, home to coniferous forests where dinosaurs roamed, including the cryolophosaurus, glacialisaurus and antarctopelta.
So do I get to tick off a new country if I visit Antarctica?
According to the YPT rulebook mentioned above, yes you do. It doesn’t matter which part you visit, but if you set foot on the continent then you can tick off the country/continent of Antarctica!