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.