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Antarctic Conservation Act and Permits

The Antarctic Conservation Act (ACA), protects native mammals, birds, plants, and their ecosystems.

The law applies to:

  • all U.S. citizens going to Antarctica, whether or not they go to Antarctica with the U.S. Antarctic Program
  • all Antarctic expeditions that originate from the United States

Without a permit it is illegal to:

  • take native mammals or birds
  • engage in harmful interference
  • enter Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs)
  • introduce species to Antarctica
  • introduce substances designated as waste
  • discharge designated waste
  • import certain Antarctic items into the USA or export them to another country

For definitions of these activities, see subsections 670.3 and 671.3 of the ACA, Public Law 95-541 (as amended by Public Law 104-227) found here, or request a free paper copy (NSF 01-151) via the contact information at the bottom of this page.

Violations of the ACA can result in penalties of up to approximately $28,000 and 1-year imprisonment per violation, removal from Antarctica, cancellation of a grant, and/or sanctions by your employer.

Permit Application Process
Are you an NSF grantee?

An up to date list of ASPAs and their management plans are posted on the Antarctic Treaty website.
Note that the permit processing time is ~45-60 days. A summary of the application gets published in the Federal Register for a required 30-day public comment period. Public comments are evaluated, followed by an internal NSF review, and permits are then approved, approved with modifications, or denied.

Are you a non-grantee doing science?
People not funded by NSF that need permits for valid scientific work should follow the process listed above.

Are you a non-grantee (tour or scientific group)?
You may need to apply for an ACA Waste Permit. Please contact the ACA Permit Officer at for further details.

Questions about the ACA or permits should be directed to the Permit Office:, or see further contact information at the bottom of this page.

The Antarctic Conservation Act incorporates into U.S. regulations the environmental standards set forth by the Protocol on Environmental Protection, which was developed by consensus by representatives of the U.S. and other Antarctic Treaty nations. The Protocol designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science” (Article 2). The Antarctic Treaty and the Environmental Protocol form the basic guidelines for all human activity on the Antarctic continent and all Consultative Parties have laws in force in their respective home legislation to govern their citizens accordingly. For more information, see the website of the Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty.

Contact information by mail or phone
To contact the permit office:
Permit Office
Office of Polar Programs
2415 Eisenhower Avenue
Suite W7100
Alexandria, VA 22331
Phone: 703-292-8030

To request paper copies of documents (please reference the document code):
NSF Publications
National Science Foundation
2415 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22331
Online order form:
Phone: 703-292-7827