Tourism in Antarctica
Many people say that to travel is to expand your horizons. For many, traveling is a way to destress and get away from their hectic every day life from wherever they are. For others, it’s a way to learn about different cultures and gain knowledge of the world around them. The tourism is growing faster than ever, “according to the World Tourism Organization, there is now a record 1.5 billion international travelers and this number is rapidly increasing” (Tauck, n.d.). Tourism fosters several things: connections between people of different cultures and backgrounds, as well as economic and business growth. In our increasingly technologically advanced and connected world, access to things that allow people are travel are becoming easier to find than ever. It can be easy for people to forget and ignore the fact that as a society, our responsibility extends further than just buying a plane ticket and travelling to a destination. When one travels, their experience stretches far beyond just their life, it also affects lives of the locals of these destinations, the natural life and ecosystems of the places they’re travelling to, as well as the overall nature of the tourism industry. With an increasing number of transportations means, places like Antarctica are becoming more accessible to visit. Antarctica intrigues tourists and scientists since not many are able to say they set foot on one of the most untouched continents on the planet. Antarctica also has the most unique wildlife and climate that can’t be studied anywhere else. According to The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), there seems to be an upward trend in visitor number to Antarctica in 2017-2018. “Overall, the total number of Antarctic visitors in 2017-2018 was 51,707, an increase of 17% compared to the previous season” (Antarctica Tourism Numbers Surge, 2018). The rise of tourism in Antarctica has caused several people to debate whether people should be allowed to travel there because while the tourism industry is gaining profit, the impact these tourists have on the environment is also questioned.
From a scientific perspective, being able to travel to Antarctica is the most exciting experience as it allows scientists to study wildlife and climate that they can’t study anywhere else in the world. For people who seek the thrill of an adventure, the opportunity for them to do so in Antarctica is endless. The uniqueness of the ice giant allows for people to camp and sleep on the ice, take the “polar lunge”, scuba dive, ski, kayak, hike icy mountains, or come into close contact with wildlife creatures that are only unique to the continent (Visit Antarctica, n.d.). In addition, the continent is also a photography wonder for many with landscapes that can’t possibly be seen or experienced anywhere else. While many people argue that tourism to Antarctica should be banned because they believe that it is not ethical for such a pristine place to be impacted by human footprints, some say that tourism here is not only acceptable, but useful as well. According to Juliet Rix, since Antarctica is alienated from other parts of the world and doesn’t have its own native population, tourism allows for global warming advocates to come, study and educate others about the continent, as well ways it can be preserved. She believes that tourism allows for people to study, inform others and fund the protection and preservation of the continent. In her article “Should tourism be banned from Antarctica”, she interviewed the Head of Polar Regions at the British Foreign Office, Jane Rumble, who stated that “It is better to have a certain level of responsible tourism than for it to go under the radar” (Rix, 2015). The Antarctic region has been reported to have been warmed up by an average of 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 60 years which has significantly shifted the patterns of the ocean and ice in the region. But many scientists argued that this is solely because of global warming and would have happened regardless of whether tourism was in the picture or not. In addition, tourists who travel to Antarctica are also bound to follow the Antarctic Treaty, which requires them to follow the environmental standards the treaty has. The Antarctic Treaty was created in 1961, originally signed by Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Soviet Union, South Africa, UK and US but has been signed by 34 other countries since. Its aim is to demilitarize and make the continent a nuclear free-zone, as well as to encourage network and cooperation between international countries and avoid territorial disputes over the continent (British Antarctic Survey). John Durban, a “British killer whale researcher from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who’s conducting whale and orca population in Antarctica” stated that there are definitely benefits in allowing the public to visit places like Antarctica, since tours raise awareness regarding climate change issues and can bring about ambassadors for different wildlife and environment preservation programs. Tourists also fund scientists to go on expeditions to learn more about these topics and in turn increase the knowledge the general public will have about these places (Draven, 2017).
Many people argue that no matter how careful, all visitors leave a footprint everywhere they travel to. When people go to Antarctica, they tend to all visit the coastline, which is the most accessible spot for tourists. However, this is also the place that wildlife animals like penguins and seals go to breed. When tourism is in season, almost everyone travels to the continent through ships, which go back and forth to South America every two weeks. One of the biggest concerns that nature conservationists have is oil spills that could result from this. A spill is highly unpredictable and could happen from ships hitting ice and rupturing something, in which case oil would escape and spill, polluting the surrounding areas. With the increase in tourisms over the past few years, many people are worried since there will be a need to have an increase in ships to take people to and from the region, which will increase the likelihood for more oil spill accidents. Numerous scientists are also concerned that as tourists come and visit the region, they’re bringing along with them a handful of invasive species that could potentially pose a danger to the existing wildlife living in Antarctica. These invasive species could be anything from insects, virus, or bacteria that remain the visitors’ shoes, clothes, food, luggage, transportation, etc … Another reason why many scientists are concerned with tourists visiting the region is because of their impact on breeding behaviors of the animals living there. It’s possible for animals to feel anxious when they see tourists, since it is not very common for them to come into contact with the humankind that it could cause them to abandon their nest and leave the area (“Antarctica Tourism- Human Impacts Threats to The Environment”, n.d.). According to Dawn Kelly, an author who went on an environmental expedition to Antarctica to study the effects of climate change there stated that for every one individual that travels to the continent, 12 tons of CO2 is required to get them there, which is “the equivalent of an average family of four living in the UK for a year” (Kelly, 2017). Whether or not one chooses to believe in global warming being a real issue, it is undeniable that temperature has been rising in the past few decades and there are several environmental problems that pose threats to not only wildlife, but human beings as well. Many scientists believe that the increase in tours to Antarctica is going to cause the global warming issue to get worse and speed up the rate of sea level rising.
Through my research, I learned and realized a of things I didn’t think of before. As someone who loves to travel and has been to many parts of the world, I’ve never actually thought of Antarctica as a potential travel destination since I didn’t know much about it, besides that it’s one of the coldest places in the world. Through doing research for this paper, I’ve been able to learn about how and why people travel there, the climate, environment, wildlife and the potential threats that human can cause to the environment when we travel, not just to Antarctica but to other parts of the world as well. While I think that it’s not realistic to ban tourism altogether in Antarctica, I think that it’s necessary to place restrictions on who can travel there and for what reason. I believe that global warming in Antarctica isn’t primarily caused by humans being there, but the increased number of visitors could contribute to the cause and can result in the problem getting worse and wildlife being disrupted, as well as the possibility of an oil spill. I think one should only be allowed to travel to the Antarctic region for scientific reasons, such as to study the climate change issue or the wildlife habitat that exists in there. As one of the articles mentioned, no matter how careful one is being when they travel, they’ll always leave a human footprint. I also believe that in the future, perhaps trips to Antarctica could be made possible when more environmentally friendly means of travel are invented.
1. (2018, April 30). Antarctica Tourism Numbers Surge. Retrieved from https://www.cruiseindustrynews.com/cruise-news/18920-antarctica-tourism-numbers-surge.html
Antarctica: A great trip or a guilt trip? (2017, July 11). Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/antarctica-responsible-tourism/index.htmlAntarctica Tourism – Human ImpactsThreats to the Environment. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica fact file/science/threats_tourism.phpBritish Antarctic Survey
Rix, J. (2015, January 12). Should tourists be banned from Antarctica? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30709924The Role of Travel in the 21st Century. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.robintauck.com/issues/the-role-of-travel-in-the-21st-century/Visit Antarctica. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://discoveringantarctica.org.uk/tourism/destination-antarctica/visit-antarctica/