Tourism in Antarctica
What is Extreme Tourism?
Extreme Tourism tends to involve tourism in dangerous landscapes and/or climates (Deserts, Mountains, Rainforests). Visitors tend to partake in adventurous activities such as paragliding, rock climbing and white-water rafting.
What type of people go on extreme holidays?
The type of people who go on these extreme holidays tend to be reasonably young (around 30) and normally have no children. As these types of holidays are expensive, they tend to have well-paying jobs. Tourists tend to travel in small groups instead of individually. However, recently retired people also tend to partake in extreme tourism, due to them having disposable money from their pension, normally not having to pay off mortgages, loans or have to pay for the needs of children or other members of family, yet still being fit enough to go on holiday in these environments.
Why do people go on holiday in extreme environments?
People normally go on extreme holidays because they seek a sense of adventure and an adrenaline rush. They attract people who desire a holiday that is away from the norm, and prefer to go to places yet untouched by tourist development. They like to see sights that can’t be seen anywhere else, and wildlife that can’t be seen anywhere else (Icebergs and Emperor Penguins respectively). In addition to this, there is obviously the striking natural beauty of Antarctica which cannot be seen anywhere else, which naturally attracts tourists in and of itself.
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What attracts tourists to Antarctica?
Antarctica has many features that are appealing to tourists. There are a variety of sporting activities such as skiing, climbing and the ‘Ice Marathon’. In addition to this, people can partake in activities such as ‘following the steps of Amundsen’ and go spotting wildlife like Emperor Penguins and whales. Tourism to Antarctica can also be a form of ecotourism, where tourists arrive to learn about the melting ice caps and the endangered wildlife. The adrenaline rush from being in an inhospitable environment such as Antarctica as well as the wealth and variety of unique activities on offer makes it a very appealing extreme tourist destination.
What has happened to the number of tourists visiting Antarctica?
Tourism in Antarctica has been happening since 1958, 47 years after Amundsen and his team first reached the South Pole. Although at that time, there were very few visitors to Antarctica, nowadays, Antarctica receives 28000 visitors per year, and although extreme tourism will never be an exceptionally large tourist sector, it is still today much larger than it was previously. It is inevitable that the number of tourists will continue to rise in the future as tourism in the area becomes more and more advanced, infrastructure developed and advertising schemes become more widespread.
What are the negative impacts of tourism in Antarctica?
Although tourists only spend a short time ashore each time they visit, the impacts on the environment can still be considerable. Tourism can lead to the disturbing of animals such as penguins and seals, which then leave the area and migrate away, possibly leaving behind young. As more and more of Antarctica is exposed to tourists, there will be less areas for these animals to live. The increase of tourism and more people on the ice shelf can lead to damage to the fragile ecosystems in the area.
Disasters such as the sinking of the MS Explorer in 2007 revealed the fact that tourism in the area needs to be more restricted, and this disaster led to pollution and fuel spillages in the water, which also can harm marine ecosystems, which can then take years to recover. Oil spills, although reasonably infrequent, are major threats to nearby wildlife. Increased tourism is also bringing about the invasion of alien species and spores into Antarctica, and although species such as the Mediterranean mussel will not be able to thrive on the ice shelf due to the temperatures, they can prove to be a threat to the marine wildlife when growing on ship hulls. Most tourists to Antarctica have flown to southern areas such as Punta Arenas in Chile or New Zealand. The pollution created by these long-distance flights is considerable and contributes to global warming. In addition to this, as global warming melts away floating ice sheets on the water, there will be space for larger ships to arrive, resulting in more tourists, and an increase in the issues aforementioned. Furthermore, there are the issues which are prevalent in all tourist destinations, such as litter, sewage, and overcrowding.
What is being done to minimise the impact of tourism?
All 100+ tour operators in Antarctica are members of IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators), which urges tour operators to be environmentally-friendly, and to urge their clients to also do so. Tourism is very much legal and acceptable in Antarctica, and it is only the scale of this which needs to be controlled. SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest), such as Bird Island on South Georgia are laid out beforehand, and tourists are not allowed to visit these, in order to preserve wildlife and certain habitats. In order to partake in any activities on the island, a permit is required, so that this can be regulated. Ships landing in Antarctica cannot be carrying more than 500 people, with only 100 being allowed to disembark at once and ships carrying heavy fuel oil (normally large passenger ships) are not allowed to enter Antarctic waters. The number of cruise vessels at any one site in the Antarctic has been limited to 40, and only one ship is allowed to land at each site at once. In addition to this, no waste or litter is to be left at the tourist sites, tourists are not allowed to walk on the lichens or moss and no tourist is allowed to go within 5 metres of an animal. All tour guides are officially trained and are experienced scientific personnel who have been involved in research in Antarctica. Waste disposal is tightly regulated, with prohibitions of the dumping of waste anywhere in the Antarctic continent, with ships now having purpose-built waste containment facilities. This shows how sustainable tourism in Antarctica is a high priority, and how there are many measures taken to minimise the negative impacts of tourism. Although these measures are effective now, it is unknown whether they will stay in place in the future, and if Antarctica will retain its title as the ‘World’s last true wilderness’ for much longer.