Sustainable Tourism: Antarctica

By | Category: Travel rumblings

For quite a few people the lure of going somewhere out-of-the-way is quite strong. Undeveloped areas that show how a country or an area really is as opposed to what tour operators have created means that certain places are not prepared for tourism. Others are so fragile from an economic or environmental standpoint that many people question whether tourists should be allowed to go there at all.
One such place is Antarctica. It isn’t a place many of us can afford to go to but that doesn’t mean to say that the number of visitors is low. The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators says that the number of visitors had risen seven fold over the last twenty years. You could argue that the number was low then and the number is low now at just 45,000 visitors last year. But in the last two years we have had one ship sunk and two more have run aground. Can Antarctica cope with this number of passengers? How will it affect the ice pack? What effect does shipping have on the landscape?
Beginning in the US this week is a 10 day meeting at which 400 delegates from around the world will meet to discuss the 50 year old Antarctic Treaty. Primarily to discuss the region as a whole, one such proposal from the US would be to seek voluntary restrictions on tourism in the area. There will be limits on the size of ships that can land and limits on the number of passengers that can go ashore.
Probably the answer is why not. Do we know enough about the impact, we as tourists make there? Probably not so until we do it makes some sense to have limits until we do know. We do know in the Galapagos, the islands have had expanded populations to meet a tourist demand. Closer to home we have had coastal pathways eroded by visitors.
This is one case when limits should not be voluntary especially since no penalties will be imposed (who would impose them anyway?)
Until we understand more, we should be cautious.

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