Friday, April 10, 2009

Antarctica & Tourism: Too Much of a Good Thing?

In today's slowing worldwide economies, tourism is good for business, but in one spot on the globe it's possible to suffer too much of a good thing. Largely a place for scientific investigations, Antarctica is on the bucket list for many travelers who've "been there and done that" and the best way to get there is by cruise ship. While only 6,700 visits were recorded to the frozen continent in 1992-1993, according to the Intl Association of Antarctica Tour Operators visits jumped to 45,213 in 2008 to 2009. Restrictions on tourism are voluntary to the region, but that may soon change.

The Associated Press reports that if the Obama administration gets its way, an amendment to the Antarctica Treaty would impose mandatory limits on the size of cruise ships allowed to sail to Antarctica as well as the number of passengers brought ashore. Documents received by the Associated Press indicate, "The new U.S. proposal contains no specific enforcement mechanism or penalties for limiting tourist operations. But it would require signatories to the pact to ensure that Antarctic tour operators bar ships with more than 500 passengers from landing sites, restrict landings to one vessel at a time per site, and limit passengers on shore to 100 at a time."

Intl Association of Antarctica Tour Operators members are backing the U.S. proposal for the mandatory limits, which were first adopted by the Antarctic Treaty parties as recommendations in 2007 and are followed "religiously" according to the group's executive director. Why such urgency when the system in place seems to be working? Apparently because of the increase in the number of visitors and concern over recent accidents at sea, including the 2007 sinking of a ship and two cruise ship groundings that occurred in the 2008-09 season that just ended.

We agree that environmental concerns should be heeded, but just exactly when did Antarctica become a state?

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