Specially protected areas were first established in 1964 under the Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora. Earlier categories of protected areas were replaced by Annex V to the Environment Protocol, which was adopted in 1991 and entered into force in 2002, and which provides for the designation of Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPA) and Antarctic Specially Managed Areas (ASMA).
An area of Antarctica may be designated an ASPA to protect outstanding environmental, scientific, historic, aesthetic or wilderness values, any combination of those values, or ongoing or planned scientific research. An area where activities are being conducted or may be conducted in the future may be designated as an ASMA , to assist in the planning and co-ordination of activities, avoid possible conflicts, improve co-operation between Parties or minimize environmental impacts.
From its inception the ATCM has emphasized the need to protect sites or monuments of historic interest , which led in 1972 to the establishment of an official list of Historic Sites and Monuments (HSMs).
Special areas may also be designated under the provisions of CCAS and CCAMLR.
The ATCM has adopted guidelines to assist Parties in selecting sites for designation and in preparing management plans.