Have You Visited Antarctica Yet? Tourism Boom Poses Environmental Danger

If Antarctica isn’t at the top of your list for a travel destination, you may be in the minority. Come again? Believe it or not, the amount of tourists that have visited Antarctica has quadrupled over the past decade, based on statistics from the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.

One of the most popular ways to visit Antarctica is on a cruise that docks on the coast of Antarctica, normally carrying 500 passengers. The most popular time to visit Antarctica is from mid-October to early April on the Antarctic Peninsula, located north of South America.

However, this boom in travel to Antarctica could pose its share of dangers. Several ships have run aground in Antarctica over the past few years. Thankfully, all passengers were unharmed, but these type of “fender benders” could cause a potential risks to the environment. Environmental groups in Antarctica have requested stronger restrictions over cruise vessels, starting with limiting the size of the ships and the amount of passengers that they carry. The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators would also like to require any organization seeking membership to bring an observer aboard their ship to make sure that they meet regulations.

So, not only is the risk of a ship hitting ice or rocks in the water a danger to its passenger, but some argue that the increase in tourism in Antarctica threatens the environment. Those opposed to this idea believe that tourists are normally well informed and concerned about protecting Antarctica’s environment during their stay.

Still, tourist groups visiting over the past several years have disturbed penguins, damaged slow-growing moss beds, and taken historical items. Waste from ships is also an issue in the water and washing ashore the coast. On top of that, some accidents have occurred as a result of tourism in Antarctica that resulted in major environmental consequences, like an oil spill caused after a tourist and supply ship ran aground the Antarctic Peninsula.

To date, experts believe that the two biggest risks facing Antarctica are global warming and tourism. Global warming is causing large ice caps to melt to make the area more accessible, encouraging more tourists to visit this relatively uncharted land. But as more and more tourists flock to Antarctica, there is a greater risk of environmental damage to the land and wildlife.

Author: Bethany Ramos works at home full time as a freelance writer, and she also co-owns her own e-commerce website, The Coffee Bump.

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Comments: 1

  • While this article seeks to be informative, this statement, “experts believe that the two biggest risks facing Antarctica are global warming and tourism” patently absurd, like comparing the danger of a nuclear arsenal to a pistol. Yes, tourism has potential impacts, and these are not at all to be ignored, but compared to climate change!? Nothing has an impact on the Antarctic ecosystem like climate change.

    After my own 20 year history of traveling to the Antarctic almost every year, I see that climate change ranks a big number one, far before the three potential other impacts on the ecosystem: (1) fishing (2) research and base development, and (3) tourism. Fishing I would estimate is the biggest, but of course it’s a very different kind of impact from research and tourism, involving the removal of certain species, and very debatably effective attempts at regulation by the Antarctic Treaty system. Research activities and tourism deserve equal weight and attention to their potential impacts. Tourism has not developed a single square inch of the Antarctic continent while there are some 65 active bases operated by 30 countries on the continent. As most of these are built on the very scarce ice free land, the impact is disproportionate. I’m not saying the impact isn’t justified, as the science is fantastic, but the impact is there.

    The biggest potential impact of humans in Antarctica (after climate change, which may change the whole dynamic of the Southern Ocean) is the introduction of species, which tourism has been very proactive about addressing. Some nations have been likewise very active about cleaning equipment that goes to Antarctica, and it would be fantastic to see all adopt such practices. Nearly every tour operator who works in Antarctica is a member of IAATO, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, which works to proactively minimize the potential impact of tourism. If the research community and the fishing industry could be so proactive in addressing their real and potential impacts, the ecosystem would be significantly safer. But what really matters is that we demand our politicians address climate change, begin closing down coal power plants and stop the development of tar sands and other such dirty fuels.

    Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris

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