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Who governs Antarctica? After the fifth-largest continent was discovered in 1821, a number of nations used the continent for scientific research and for obtaining fur from seals. It has no native inhabitants and few indigenous plants and animals. In 1959, 12 nations signed the Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits military activity and nuclear explosions, and allows free movement of scientific exploration. The treaty also suspended all claims of ownership of the Antarctic territory, so that it is not owned by anyone but is governed by a group of nations. The number of nations that meet annually to consult on the governing of Antarctica has grown to 27. They have banned killing of seals for fur and restricted fishing. In 1991, they prohibited oil and mineral exploration for the next 50 years.

Sources: 'The Explainer,' by the writers at Slate Magazine; Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, www.scar.org/treaty

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