The term “bioprospecting” is a relatively new one, and as yet there is no consensus on its precise legal meaning. But what it appears to cover are the range of activities associated with searching for, discovering, and researching unique biodiversity for potential commercial applications. The Antarctic region, which we will take to be the entire area south of the Antarctic Convergence, is a region containing such uniqueness. Bioprospecting has already been underway in the Antarctic for some years.
Bioprospecting in the Antarctic presents the familiar generic challenges associated with the activity anywhere. It also, however, carries with it additional and particular challenges because of the region's contested and unresolved territorial sovereignty situation, which is managed through a delicate (and itself periodically contested) form of international governance through the Antarctic Treaty System.
The principle achievements of the Antarctic Treaty System include: practical demilitarisation of the region, ensuring freedom of scientific investigation (including free availability of scientific observations and results) and the establishment of science as the currency of national presence, containing the territorial sovereignty problems, safeguarding the environment, and establishing activity-specific responses to issues (sealing, marine harvesting, minerals activities, and [currently] tourism) as they arise.