Tourism to Antarctica is likely to soon be regulated, following a joint session last week of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and the Arctic Council. At the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for tighter controls on cruise ships and tourists to preserve the continent’s pristine beauty and endangered wildlife.
Citing concerns about the recent Antarctic ice bridge collapse, Clinton spoke about the fragile environment of the region and the damage that global warming has already caused. She pointed both to the impact of cruise ships on the environment and to safety issues for visitors. Incidents last year in which two ships ran aground and another hit an iceberg have raised concerns about fuel spills and other environmental hazards, as well as passenger safety. Said Clinton: “We have submitted a resolution that would place limits on landings from ships carrying large numbers of tourists.” Ms. Clinton also called for “greater international cooperation” to avoid further degradation of “the environment around Antarctica” [The New York Times].
Clinton also formally announced that the United States would be proposing mandatory limits on the size of Antarctic cruise ships and the number of passengers they bring ashore [AP]. Under the limits, ships carrying more than 500 passengers would be forbidden from allowing any of them to disembark from the vessel and set foot on the continent; smaller ships would also be limited to allowing 100 passengers at any one spot.
Antarctic tourism has become an increasingly divisive issue in recent years, pitting scientists and preservationists against a travel industry seeking to capitalize on a growing demand for adventure and nature-oriented tours [CNN]. Growth of the industry has been dramatic: about 6,700 people visited the region in 1992, while last year saw a record 46,000 visitors, the majority in cruise ships. There are growing fears that it is only a matter of time before the boom results in a major maritime disaster [The Independent].
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Image: Flickr / Christian Revival Network