Tourism in Antarctica: Edging Toward the (Risky) Mainstream

Travel, Tourism, Cruises, Environment, Antarctica

Travel to one of the most remote parts of the planet is booming. What does that mean for the environment and visitor safety?

Travel, Tourism


Travel to one of the most remote parts of the planet is booming. What does that mean for the environment and visitor safety?

Travel to one of the most remote parts of the planet is booming. What does that mean for the environment and visitor safety?

Tourists look at glaciers onboard the Hurtigruten hybrid expedition cruise ship MS Roald Amundsen at Chiriguano Bay in Antarctica. Credit... Johan Ordonez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images By Paige McClanahan Feb. 26, 2020 In January, the Coral Princess, a ship with 2,000 berths and a crew of nearly 900, plowed through the frigid waters off the Antarctic Peninsula, cruising past icebergs, glaciers and mountains clad in snow. The cruise, which had been advertised at less than $4,000 per person, is remarkably cheaper than most Antarctic expeditions, which often charge guests at least three times that amount for the privilege of visiting one of the wildest parts of the planet. Visitors to the region — and the ships that carry them — are growing in number: Antarctica, once accessible only to well-funded explorers, is now edging toward the mainstream. But managing tourism is a tricky issue in this distant region where no individual government has the power to set the rules, and the challenge is becoming more complex as Antarctica’s popularity grows. During the current austral summer, which runs from roughly November to March, visitor numbers to Antarctica are expected to rise by nearly 40 percent from the previous season. Some observers warn that such rapid growth risks imperiling visitor safety and adding pressure to this fragile region, which is already straining under the effects of climate change, commercial fishing for krill, toothfish and other species, and even scientific research. Human activity in Antarctica falls under the governance of the Antarctic Treaty system, a model of international cooperation that dates to the Cold War era. But day-to-day management of tourism is regulated by the tour operators themselves, through a voluntary trade association that sets and enforces rules among its members. Observers agree that this system has worked well since it was set up in the 1990s, but some worry that booming tourist numbers could push the old system to a breaking point. They say that the consultative parties to the Antarctic Treaty system — governments like those of the United States, France, New Zealand, Argentina and some two dozen others — must act more quickly to manage tourism, and protect the region’s value as a wilderness. “The bottom line for us is that there aren’t a lot of hard rules governing tourism. It’s mostly voluntary,” said Claire Christian, executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, a network of more than 15 conservation groups that serves as an observer to the Antarctic Treaty system. “Right now, there is a lot of good will. But that’s not something you can guarantee.” A booming industry Tourism in the Antarctic began with a trickle in the 1950s, but the industry remained exclusive and expensive. Expeditions grew steadily and by the late 1980s, a handful of companies were offering sea- and land-based trips. In 1991, seven private tour operators came together to form the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). Among other things, the group’s aims were to promote “environmentally safe and responsible travel”; improve collaboration among its members; and create — among the operators’ paying clients — a “corps of ambassadors” who could advocate conservation of the Antarctic region after they returned home from their trips. Visitor figures soon began to creep up, increasing from roughly 6,700 in the 1992-1993 season to nearly 15,000 by the end of that decade, according to IAATO figures. Apart from a dip after the 2008 financial crisis, numbers have risen steadily ever since. More than 56,000 tourists visited Antarctica during the 2018-2019 season. The figure for the current season is expected to rise to more than 78,500, more than double the total from a decade ago. The vast majority of visitors come by cruise ship, setting sail from ports like Ushuaia in Argentina or Punta Arenas in Chile. Meanwhile, IAATO has been gaining an average of two to five operators every year, according to Lisa Kelley, IAATO’s head of operations. Its members now include 48 tour operators, as well as five provisional members (Princess Cruises among them) and more than 60 associates — travel agents, marketers and others that work in the industry but don’t run their own tours. “At the end of the day, we’re all a bunch of competitors,” said Bob Simpson, vice president of expedition cruising at the luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent and a former chair of IAATO’s executive committee. “But it’s in our best interest to work together and cooperate,” he added, “to ensure this extraordinary place is protected for future generations.” Mr. Simpson said that IAATO has been “remarkably successful” in promoting sustainable travel to the region, noting that, in his view, the education and experiences that they offer their guests outweigh the negative impact of the carbon emissions associated with the trip. Abercrombie & Kent and other IAATO members agree to abide by the organization’s bylaws and guidelines, as well as the rules set out by the Antarctic Treaty system. These govern things like the number of passengers allowed ashore during site visits, staff-to-visitor ratios, and the amount of experience required of the crew. The rules also stipulate that vessels — like the Coral Princess — that carry more than 500 people are not allowed to make landings; they can only “cruise” off the coast. Smaller vessel expeditions — offered by companies such as Abercrombie & Kent, Hurtigruten and Lindblad Expeditions, among others — are allowed to make landings, and their passengers might have the opportunity to disembark with guides to walk, kayak, snowshoe, or even camp or ski onshore. Membership in IAATO remains voluntary, although all Antarctic tour operators must obtain a permit to travel in Antarctica from one of the parties to the Antarctic Treaty. For now, Ms. Kelley said, every passenger ship operating in the Antarctic is either a member or provisional member of IAATO, apart from some private yachts, defined as vessels carrying 12 or fewer passengers. She is confident that the organization is ready to accommodate the surge in tourist numbers. “We’ve learned our lesson from the previous two big spurts of growth,” Ms. Kelley said in a recent phone interview. “We’ve really looked at our systems carefully and really worked on trying to make them as robust as we possibly can.” Safety concerns Other observers are less confident that rising tourist numbers are sustainable. The risks range from possible damage to sites that tourists visit to the potential growth in non-IAATO tour operators to ensuring visitor safety. Accidents are rare, but not unheard-of. In November 2007, the MS Explorer, a Liberian-flagged vessel carrying about 100 passengers and 50 crew, cracked its hull on submerged ice, then started to take on water and list severely. Those aboard evacuated to lifeboats around 2:30 a.m., then floated in the cold for more than three hours before another ship, the cruise liner Nordnorge, rescued them. No one was killed or injured, but that was in part because of the weather. “Within two hours after the passengers and crew were aboard the Nordnorge, the weather conditions deteriorated with gale force winds,” according to the official investigative report into the incident, which was conducted by the Liberian Bureau of Maritime Affairs. “If the Nordnorge’s speed to the scene had been reduced due to rough sea conditions, there may have been fatalities from hypothermia.” The environment didn’t fare as well. The MS Explorer slipped beneath the waves carrying more than 55,000 gallons of oil, lubricant and petrol; two days later, an oil slick spread over an area of nearly two square miles near the site of the wreck. A Chilean naval ship passed through to try to speed up the dispersal of the fuel, but the report noted that the “oil sheen” was still visible more than a year later. Ms. Kelley said that measures have been introduced since the Explorer incident, including the International Maritime Organization’s new “ polar code ,” which, she said, imposes “real limits on where and how vessels can operate and how new ships should be built.” Fuel tanks must now be situated away from the vessel’s hull, for example; navigation officers are required to have more experience and environmental rules have been tightened. But as visitor numbers grow, so, too, does the risk of an accident. And while all tour operators in the Antarctic are currently IAATO members or provisional members, a status that offers them a degree of support, there is no guarantee that companies new to the region will see the value in joining the organization. If they decide to go it alone, there is nothing to stop them. “There have been incidents, but we have always been quite lucky in the sense that maybe the weather conditions were right or there were other ships around,” said Machiel Lamers, an associate professor at the Environmental Policy Group of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “Having a couple of thousands of passengers and crew in Antarctic waters is, of course, another thing than having a couple of hundred.” A fragile environment Scientists warn that the rise in tourism also increases the risk of disrupting the fragile environment. The introduction of invasive species — nonnative crabs or mussels clinging to the hull of a ship, foreign plant seeds stuck in the lining of a tourist’s parka — Read more: The New York Times

It means nothing. It is none of the NYT's business. With a cruise boat that has a fckn pool ! It may be hot 🥵 but at least Corona Virus isn’t there yet. Great vacation destination 👍 Covid_19 Antarctica ClimateChange Ni kan ju ta en kryssning tfkmathie coronavirus It means trash all over the place. ban travel there, please

🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 Please share with everyone! Visiting raises awareness which increases the chances people will want to protect it. Given how big it is and how little humankind is there, it probably means nothing in the way of negative impact.

Virgin Galactic Plans to Resume Space-Tourism SalesVirgin Galactic Holdings still plans to make its first commercial space-tourism flight this year and took a step toward resuming ticket sales for jaunts expected to cost upward of $250,000. I'm scared of heights Lol $250,000?!?! And i bet all we get is shitty airplane food to go along with that $250,000?!? I have a feeling that the trip would be very underwhelming. Unless we're doing spacewalks, it's just a glorified airplane ride. Great because I have a wedding on fucking mars I have to get to

Antarctica should be left alone.. but sign me up Problems. Humans f-ck up everything Inflation go while you can, before climate change melts antarctica 😢 Antarctic is the only continent that doesn't have coronavirus. Leave it alone.

AG William Barr laments 'massively consolidated' mainstream press; claims journalists now 'less objective'In a speech before the National Religious Broadcasters Convention, the attorney general referred to the press as 'remarkably monolithic in viewpoint...' God Bless the AG! He backs Trump and is a true American patriot 🇱🇷 same back to you *his attorney general it's not just that it's 'monolithic'. it's that the distribution of political viewpoint in the mainstream media is completely misrepresentative of the distribution of the general population. they only reflect half the country's viewpoint.

In first public results, Branson's Virgin Galactic posts $73 million quarterly lossBillionaire Richard Branson's space tourism company, Virgin Galactic Holdin... Good, he's a crook HOw can Virgin Galactic Lose money and also not do anything? Darn

Prince Harry Requests to Be Called ‘Harry’ During U.K. AppearancePrince Harry made a very telling request during his first U.K. appearance since relocating to Canada with Meghan Markle. They will always call him the “spare”. It’s obscene but it’s true. No one on this side of the pond blames him for wanting his own life. Harry needs a last name. Can he be Harry Markle?

A heat wave melted 20% of an Antarctic island's snow in only 9 daysA heat wave earlier this month in Antarctica melted about 20% of an island's snow in only nine days. good good less ice to reflect sun means world will burn faster Now this is for real no matter how folks want to ignore it. None of us can go there to feel the temperature so I am gonna call this fake news by the liberals to push their nonsense

Coronavirus Live Updates: Outbreak Has Reached at Least 44 CountriesThe coronavirus is on every continent but Antarctica , with more new cases now being reported outside China than within it. Latest updates: China is suppressing their numbers Hey and you didn’t post it in Chinese. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 And the mullahs of Iran are spreading the coronavirus in the Middle East

Krispy Kreme is giving out a free dozen doughnuts to healthcare workers

A 102-year-old Italian woman recovers from coronavirus

Tornado flattens buildings in Jonesboro, Arkansas

As Virus Spreads, China and Russia See Openings for Disinformation

First death of infant in connection with coronavirus reported in the US

‘War Zone’: Ambulances in N.Y.C. Are Now as Busy as on Sept. 11

Coronavirus live updates: Trump considers enforceable quarantine in NY, NJ; 200 US cities lack face masks

Write Comment

Thank you for your comment.
Please try again later.

Latest News


26 February 2020, Wednesday News

Previous news

Founder of 8chan Faces Arrest on ‘Cyberlibel’ Charge

Next news

Mubarak’s Three-Decade Rule Is Brushed Aside in War-Hero Burial
New Roomba Blender Makes Smoothie Out Of Everything In Its Path Tom Coburn, the ‘Dr. No’ of Congress, Is Dead at 72 Coronavirus live updates: US death toll crosses 2,000; Trump won't use enforceable quarantine in NY, NJ Doctor: I am a soldier in this battle, and I am scared Larry Kramer, AIDS Warrior, Takes on Another Plague North Korea fires missiles into sea, criticized by South CDC issues travel advisory for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut Trump asks CDC to issue 'strong travel advisory' for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut Guess the Kardashian Curves! An Israeli Mom Ranted About Online Learning, and the Internet Replied: ‘Same’ Yes, we long have referred to disease outbreaks by geographic places. Here's why we shouldn't anymore Who Feeds Fiona? Cincinnati Zookeepers Make Sure There Are No Hungry Hippos
Krispy Kreme is giving out a free dozen doughnuts to healthcare workers A 102-year-old Italian woman recovers from coronavirus Tornado flattens buildings in Jonesboro, Arkansas As Virus Spreads, China and Russia See Openings for Disinformation First death of infant in connection with coronavirus reported in the US ‘War Zone’: Ambulances in N.Y.C. Are Now as Busy as on Sept. 11 Coronavirus live updates: Trump considers enforceable quarantine in NY, NJ; 200 US cities lack face masks Trump says he's considering short-term quarantine of New York, New Jersey, parts of Connecticut Trump opens the door to calling up former active service members for coronavirus fight Covid-19 is making some athletes scrub their hands down to the muscle and tissue Apple releases coronavirus screening app and website in partnership with CDC Hillary and Bill Clinton sent over 400 pizzas to New York hospitals fighting against coronavirus