Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises (TAAF)
The French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF) are an overseas territory which has been created in 1955 and which comprises the Crozet and Kerguelen archipelagos, the islands of Saint-Paul and Amsterdam, the Adélie Land on the Antarctic continent, and, since 2007, the îles Eparses - Scattered Islands (Europa, Glorieuses, Juan de Nova, Bassas da India and Tromelin). The TAAF manage an Exclusive Economic Zone of 2.39 million km², France’s second biggest EEZ after French Polynesia. With over 11 million km², France comes second only behind the United States in terms of maritime surface area, thanks to its overseas territories.
The TAAF are under the authority of the Prefect who at the same time is the High Commissioner of the territory. He thus not only represents the French State but is also directly in charge of the collectivity. He is represented in each district by a head of district.
The collectivity has an annual budget of about 26 million euros that corresponds to revenues generated by proper resources (fishing taxes, special edition stamps, customs, tourism, ship mooring taxes). The TAAF also benefit from subsidies by the French Overseas Ministry. Financial support for the TAAF Nature Reserve is provided by the French Ministry of the environment. Access to the three southern districts is possible via the vessel “Marion Dufresne”, which departs from Réunion. The vessel “Astrolabe” heads for Adélie Land from Hobart, Australia. As for the Scattered Islands, they are accessible by military aircraft or by boat from Réunion. The isolation of the TAAF makes it indispensable for the administration to establish a complex chain of logistics. A permanent French presence on the various islands is therefore essential.
The TAAF do not have any permanent population. Consequently, there are no constituents, no representatives and no local parliament. However, the Prefect reports back to an advisory committee of representatives and other qualified experts who are systematically consulted on fiscal, budgetary and environmental matters.
The TAAF are spread out between the 11th and 90th parallel south and therefore comprise a territory stretching from the tropics to the South Pole. Owing to its geographic isolation and historically limited human settlement, these territories are of great scientific and environmental value.
Over several decades the TAAF have hosted many research projects on all of its five districts. Research activities range from life to space sciences. In the southern islands and Adélie Land, these studies are performed by the IPEV (French Polar Institute) in close collaboration with the TAAF. On average, 225 French and foreign researchers are present every year on the various stations and involved in around sixty different programs. In the Scattered Islands, the TAAF have mandated the INEE (National Institute of Ecology and Environment) and the INSU (National Institute of Space Sciences) with a mission to safeguard coherence in global research through the development of specific strategies.
The presence of Météo France (French weather service) in each district means that meteorological observations can be made in these remote regions. This work also contributes to develop a better understanding of climate changes, particularly in insular environments. The TAAF also work with the CNES (National Center of Spatial Studies), which has a satellite monitoring station in Kerguelen, and with the CEA (Institute of Atomic Energy) in the framework of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
Social studies have not been missed out, as studies on and excavations of the “Utile”-shipwreck prove as well as research relating to the forgotten slaves on Tromelin Island and the lifting of inventories of various shipwrecks by the DRASSM (Department of archaeological, sub-aquatic and underwater research) in the Scattered Islands.
The southern districts and Adélie Land can host between 20 and 100 people (scientists and technical staff) for a period of time ranging between several months to up to a year. The military personnel and meteorologists based in the Scattered Islands are substituted every 30 to 45 days.
The Southern Islands are noteworthy for their extreme isolation and their very specific weather conditions that have contributed to a high rate of endemism as well as to some very particular adaptations by the fauna and flora. The Crozet archipelago is home to the largest community of seabirds in the world (25 million birds come to breed every year). For instance, at Crozet the king penguins form colonies of up to one million members. Another emblematic species is the Amsterdam Albatross, endemic to Amsterdam Island. With approximately only 30 reproductive couples each year, this species is considered by the IUCN (International Union for Conversation of Nature) as being critically endangered.
A large number of marine mammals are also present in the region which include several species of dolphins, whales amongst others. Large groups of sea lions and sea elephants gather on land every year to breed. Adélie Land is also known for its high concentration of protected species of birds and marine mammals such as petrels, penguins, killer whales, fin whales and so on. The emperor penguin is probably one of today’s most emblematic species of the cold regions of the world. The Scattered Islands are home to complex and diverse ecosystems such as mangroves and coral reefs. For instance, colonies of sooty terns (sterna fuscata) can be found easily in the Indian Ocean (over two million couples). Both green and hawksbill sea turtles come to breed in the Scattered Islands every year. However, these species are highly endangered and enjoy worldwide protection.
Three fisheries are administered by the TAAF :
- The Patagonian toothfish (also known as the Chilean Seabass), found in the EEZs of Kerguelen and Crozet ;
- The Spiny lobster (or langouste), found in the EEZs of Saint Paul and Amsterdam islands ;
- The Tuna, found in the Scattered Islands and the Mozambique Channel.
The stocks of the Patagonian toothfish and the Spiny lobster are maintained at a stable level by virtue of a very rigorous management that is based on quotas determined with the help of the National Museum of Natural History. The TAAF are permanently committed to meet the demands of international labeling schemes for sustainable development.
In the Scattered Islands the migratory stocks of scombroidei (tunas and relatives) are monitored by the IOTC (Indian Ocean Tuna Commission). As for the Southern Islands, efforts are undertaken to develop a sustainable stock management in cooperation with certain scientific organizations such as the IFREMER (French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea), the IRD (Institute of Research for Development) and professionals of the fishing industry.
The National Nature Reserve of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands was created in 2006. It comprises the entire surface of Crozet, Kerguelen, Saint Paul and Amsterdam as well as a large portion of their surrounding waters. It is France’s biggest nature reserve and the largest protected wetland in Europe (Ramsar convention on wetlands).
Adélie Land has been protected since 1959 by the Antarctic Treaty that proclaimed that the continent shall be a “land of peace and science”. The treaty has subsequently been complemented by the Madrid Protocol (1991). The Scattered Islands were classified as territorial nature reserves in 1975. This protection will soon be enhanced by the creation of marine protected areas. Along with these protective measures, the TAAF carry out active environmental policies that are especially linked to the conversation of their biodiversity. The TAAF also organize large-scale cleanup operations and evacuate the waste generated daily in the districts towards a local waste management network based in Réunion.
The biological heritage of these territories is to this day almost unspoiled, which highlights their environmental value for the world. In the name of the international community, France is the warrantor of the preservation of these islands. The TAAF do regularly take part at advisory group meetings of the Antarctic Treaty system and at the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) as part of the French delegation.
The Scattered Islands make the TAAF a part of the Indian Ocean. In this role, the TAAF, together with the other French islands Réunion and Mayotte, contribute to enhance regional cooperation in areas such as fisheries, biodiversity and scientific research regarding some of the world’s most pressing issues. The TAAF are not part of the European Union, but do enjoy a special status as an associated Overseas Country and Territory (OCT).
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