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					TOURISM IN ANTARCTICA: AN ANALYSIS OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF
TOURISM ON EARTH’S LAST GREAT WILDERNESS



Rohan Thatté

BSc (Honours) Student

Hotel and Tourism Management Institute Switzerland




ABSTRACT

The following paper discusses the negative impacts of tourism on the environment of
Antarctica. The author has endeavoured to evaluate the demand for tourism in the Antarctic.
The author critically analyses the environmental impacts of the various aspects of tourism
conducted on the continent. An evaluation is done on the effects of ship-based tourism on
the marine life surrounding the continent of Antarctica, the effects of land-based tourism on
the wildlife as well as the unique microorganism that live on the continent. The author then
critiques the robustness of the regulatory bodies that govern all human activity in Antarctica.
In the concluding section of the paper, it will be evident that regardless of how stringent the
regulatory bodies are, any human activity conducted on the continent will result in some form
of environmental degradation. The author recommends that a centralized governing body is
needed to further prevent any harmful damage done to the fragile ecosystem of Antarctica.

INTRODUCTION

The continent of Antarctica is a place that is truly breathtaking, a place that simply cannot be
compared to any other on earth. A land that is distant, inhospitable, and uninhabited. It is the
world’s largest wilderness, the only place on earth that has no native humans (United States
Antarctic Program, 2009; The World Factbook, 2009). A place where the weather is
unforgiving; a place where blizzards can reach speeds of over 300 kilometres per hour, and
temperatures can reach as low as minus ninety-one degrees Celsius (British Antarctic
Survey, 2009; WWF, 2005). It is the fifth largest continent on Earth yet it is one of the largest
areas on the globe undamaged by humankind (British Antarctic Survey, 2009). The CIA
World Factbook (2009) states that about ninety eight percent of Antarctica is covered by ice,
and the remaining two percent barren rock, a place too extreme for any sort of vegetation to
survive.
According to the CIA World Factbook (2009), scientists are the only people who stay on the
continent for long periods. There are about 4,100 personnel during the summer, and about
1,100 during the winter, from various countries conducting research. The Foreign and
Commonwealth Office (2009) indicates that tourism is relatively a new concept for
Antarctica. A few decades ago, a person travelling to the continent would be considered as
an explorer rather than a tourist (Busby, 1998). In the last twenty years, Antarctica has seen
rapid development of tourism (Haase, Lamers, and Amelung, 2009). The sheer extremeness
of the continent catches the attention of the adventure traveller and with more facilities under
construction; travelling to Antarctica is becoming easier. According to Laws (1995), the
exotic aspects of destinations and facilities established in remote locations attract tourists.
Antarctica has three main types of tourism: cruise ships, over flights, and actual landings
(IAATO, 2009). The growth of tourism in Antarctica has given the tourists several options for
travel. Cruise-only itineraries without landings for large ships, fly-sail operations, and
adventure tourism activities such as kayaking, scuba diving, or mountain climbing
complement the traditional small-ship expedition cruises that include landings (Lamers,
2008).

The developments in tourism has been beneficial to tour operators and certainly to travellers
looking to experience the extremes, however, the ever increasing number of tourists arriving
has proved disastrous for the flora and fauna of Antarctica.

According to Cooper et al (2005), when a tourism activity takes place, the environment is
inevitably changed or modified either to facilitate tourism or changed through the tourism
production process. In the case of Antarctica, the author argues that the environment be left
as it is.

Literature regarding tourism in Antarctica suggests that with the growth of tourism, the
development of permanent infrastructures and facilities that cater entirely to tourism has
troubled environmentalists and scientists for decades. Development of infrastructure such as
landing strips for airplanes, and tourism specific facilities has initiated a new of era of human
activity in Antarctica (Hemmings and Roura, 2003). The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF,
2005) adds that the entire continent and the surrounding ocean is under attack from land,
sea and air, and that many species that once flourished have been pushed to the brink of
extinction.

DEMAND FOR TOURISM IN ANTARCTICA

For centuries, there was a belief of a great land at the very bottom of the globe, but the true
nature of Antarctica was established by Captain Cook on his second voyage in search of this
great southern land in the 1770’s (National Science Foundation, 1997). Over the years,
human exploration of Antarctica was by whalers and seal hunters. Between 1784 and 1822,
millions of seals were hunted for their skins in the Sub-Antarctic islands, thus starting the
period of Antarctic exploration and exploitation. The hunt for seals almost caused the
extinction of the Fur Seal (Antarctic Connection, 2009; Dingwall, 1997). An International
Geographic Congress in 1895 lead to the promotion of Antarctic exploration where 16 teams
from Australia, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Scotland, and Sweden
headed expeditions to explore Antarctica (National Science Foundation 1997). The
exploration continued for the next century, thus facilitating the demand for Tourism in
Antarctica.

Tourism to Antarctica started as early as the 1950’s with a few Argentinean and Chilean
ships taking paid travellers to the islands surrounding Antarctica (IAATO, 2008). However,
Lars Erik Lindbald, a Swedish adventurer, brought life to Antarctic Tourism with the birth of
an Antarctic tour company, the Lindbald Expeditions (Mulvane, 2001). Lindbald specialized
in talking small groups of wealthy, but intelligent and curious, visitors to Antarctica. The
expeditions that lasted ten to fourteen days and became an instant success with people who
could afford to pay (Bauer, 2001). Other tour operators saw the opportunity and gradually
mass tourism began; prices dropped, number of capable ships increased, number of trips
increased and more options for travel and activities emerged (Stonehouse, 2001). The
number of tourist arrivals to Antarctica rose sharply, especially in the last two decades
(Lamers, Haase and Amelung, 2008).

The demand for Antarctic tourism, especially from the 1990’s, has been on a sharp rise as
illustrated in Figure 1. The sudden growth of tourism, in regards to the number of arrivals,
coincides with the increase of research personnel during the summer of 1994-1995. 1994
had the highest number National Science Foundation research personnel (Antarctic Journal
of the United States, 1995).

According to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators Tourism Statistics
Report for 2007-2008 (IAATO, 2009), 46,069 tourists visited the continent during the 2007 –
2008 Antarctic summer, compared to just 6,512 visitors fifteen years before. IAATO
projections suggest even higher numbers in coming years. This increasing global demand
for tourism in Antarctica creates a profitable opportunity for tour operators. The major
markets currently are North America (40.5%), Europe (31.1%), Australia (8.0%), and others
(20.4%).

Trips to Antarctica can cost on average up to U.S. $8,000 per person (Lonely Planet Travel
Guide, 2009). Journeys International (2009) lists a trip costing a grand total of U.S. $37,590
per person. These findings show the unmistakable link between the cost of a trip to the
continent and the main markets that demand it. In general, these tourists are well educated,
well travelled, have high disposable incomes, and are looking for an adventure tour
(Kriwoken and Rootes, 2000).




Figure 1: Antarctic tourist statistics 1965-2005 (IAATO, 2009; Lamers, 2006)

On the contrary, Lamers, Haase and Amelung (2008) open up an interesting idea that
developing markets, in particular, Russia, India and China are expected to demand such
tourism products, adding a greater demand for tour operators. As mentioned in the
introduction, tourism in Antarctica is the epitome of ecotourism, hence it is essential to look
at the motivation for travel to established ecotourism destinations to compare the behaviour
of tourists wanting to travel to Antarctica. The International Ecotourism Society (2009)
reports that ecotourism has become the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry,
with an annual growth rate between 10% and 30%. At present ecotourism comprises about
20% of the world travel market. Ecotourism campaigns, especially through media, have
started to enter society’s consciousness (Wild, 2009). Cooper, Fletcher, Fyall, Gilbert and
Wanhill (2005) define ecotourism as a form of tourism that is nature-based with attempts to
minimise its environmental impact. Fridgen (1996) adds the aspect of education to
ecotourism. The combination of the definitions defines tourism in Antarctica; a nature-based
tourism where tourists visit the destination to be educated, whilst minimizing the
environmental impact.
The main attractions for tourists visiting Antarctica are the undamaged wilderness, unique
wildlife, and the spectacular landscapes. Boyd and Butler (1996) agree the uniqueness of an
area functioning as the attraction represent an important reason in creating the opportunities
to promote tourism. Carvallo (1994) adds that tourists to Antarctica focus on the ecotourism
aspects and visiting the numerous scientific research stations. However, Briassoulis (2002)
stresses that such attractions are not exclusive. The exclusivity and the sheer enjoyment of
such attractions dwindle as the number of tourists’ increases. The undamaged wilderness
and the spectacular landscape are no longer unspoilt, and no longer pristine. This, however,
is a common issue which comes with a growing demand for any destination.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF TOURISM IN ANTARCTICA

It is well established that tourism activity impacts the environment, and transportation from
tourism activity contributes significantly to the harmful impacts to the environment.

Ship-based tourism

Tourism activity heavily depends burning fossil fuels; it is estimated that tourism industry
generates at least five percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions (Davos Declaration,
2007). Ship-based tourism accounts for two main types of tourism, cruise ships with landing
on the continent, and cruises that takes tourist in the Antarctic waters without setting foot on
shore. Transportation to the continent itself is by ship or by air. However, tourism has yet to
adopt the full potential of air travel. Due to Antarctica’s remoteness, severe weather
conditions and the presence of sea and land ice, access to Antarctica follows two basic
steps: by air from the tourists’ home country to a gateway city far south, continued by ship to
the continent. Most of these gateway cities are located in Argentina, Chile, South Africa,
Australia, and New Zealand (Lamers, Haase and Amelung, 2008). As the weather conditions
en route to Antarctica are often extreme, access to Antarctica is entirely restricted to
professional tour operators. Mason and Legg (1999) add that the harsh conditions in the
Antarctic region requires extensive preparation and experienced staff. Any disregard for
procedure can cause an expedition to fail or even have disastrous outcomes for the tourists
and crew as well as for the environment.

The easiest access to the continent of Antarctica is from the southern tip of South America
departing from the port of Ushuaia and Punta Arenas. The northwest tip of the Antarctic
Peninsula is only about 1,000 kilometres away hence the Antarctic Peninsula has turned into
major destination for tourists (Bauer, 2001). This 1,300 kilometre long peninsula, a ‘banana
shaped’ partially ice covered strip of land, has had up to ten ships at one time. Cruise ships,
like all other ships, release waste in order to function in a safe and effective manner
(Courtney, Fjelstad and Wildman, 2004). Large cruise ships that travel to the Antarctic, such
as the Golden Princess with a passenger capacity of 3,700, produce several tons of waste
each day (O'Grady, No Date). The Golden Princess became the largest ship to sail into the
Antarctic waters, which comes complete with five swimming pools, a casino, and a nine-hole
putting green (Williams, 2007). Schulkin (2002) mentions that there are generally seven
types of waste that cruise ships: sewage, gray water, air emissions, solid waste, ballast
water, and oily bilge water; all that are hazardous to the fragile Antarctic ecosystem.

Adventure Live (2009), a website that caters tourists looking for cruises to adventurous
destinations, lists luxury cruses with five start amenities and facilities that sail to Antarctica.
These luxury cruise ships, with a higher capacity of passengers, and five star facilities, expel
even more waste into the environment. Waste from services such as hair salons, dry
cleaners, and photo processing labs are also extremely hazardous (Johnson, 2002). For the
proper operation of large ships, ballast water is used to stabilize the ship, especially during
rough seas (Kinver, 2008). However once these ships are stationary, the ballast tanks are
emptied, releasing thousands of litres of ballast water containing over 7,000 species of
marine biological species (Anil et al, 2004), all of which are alien to the environment of
Antarctica. Foreign microorganisms can devastate the ecology of the region, disturbing the
population balance of regional organisms (Drake, Doblin and Dobbs, 2007).

Three important ships that play a significant role in the history of Antarctic tourism are, the
Lindbald Explorer, now named the M/S Explorer, the Bahai Paraiso, and the Kapitan
Khlebnikov (Maher, Steel and McIntosh, 2003). In 1989, the Bahai Paraiso, an Argentinean
naval ship, grounded at Arthur Harbour, a port near the American Palmer research station
(Splettstoesser, 1999). Due to the lack of resources, the ship eventually sunk releasing an
estimated 1,000,000 litters of diesel (Eppley and Rubega, 1990). The ecosystem in the area
of the shipwreck were contaminated causing many of the living organism from penguins,
cormorant, and seals, to other migratory birds, fish, clams, microalgae and marine plants to
die. One year after the spill, contaminants from the oil spill were still present (Bargagli, 2005;
Kennicutt et al, 1991). The sinking of the ship called for the formation of the International
Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (Maher, Steel and McIntosh, 2003). Regardless of
the fact that there are protection agencies such as the IAATO, accidents, though
preventable, still occur. Contaminants such as lubricant oils, and plastics are still hazardous
to the ecosystem of Antarctica. Petroleum hydrocarbons are the most likely source of
contamination in the Antarctic waters, and with the tourism numbers increasing, the
likelihood of contamination increases.
Most fuel spills reported are in the close proximity of scientific research stations, and Lamers
(2006) explains that more tourist activity is happening at the science research station
because of the existing infrastructure.

Land-based tourism

Land-based tourism is the second important form of tourism operation in Antarctica. With the
construction of a 1.3 kilometre long paved runway at a Chilean research station on Kong
George Island in 1980, indicated the ability for land-based and airborne tourism in the
Antarctic (Higham and Lueck, 2008). The extreme environmental conditions of the Antarctic
prevent permanent tourism facilities from being built (Bastmeijer, Lamers and Harcha, 2008).
The trend of cruise ships that accommodate the tourists also has helped ease the demand
to build permanent structures. Nevertheless, transformation of military or research station
facilities are always an option for tourism development. From 1982 till 1992, Chile operated
the ‘Hotel Estrella Polar,’ a converted military base with 80 beds, on King George Island
(National Research Council, 1993). Chilean commercial operators, as well as the Chilean
military operated flights to the hotel, solely for tourism activity. Military operations are
forbidden on Antarctica on accordance to the Antarctic Treaty (Watts, 1992), this base had
been constructed solely for scientific military research. Most tourism activity on land takes
place on existing research station infrastructures.

Adventure Network International (ANI) claims to be the first and the only company to offer
flights into the Antarctic interior (Adventure Network International 2009). Kriwoken & Rootes
(2000) confirm this claim by stating that this company the only tourism provider to operate a
tented summer camp that accommodates 50 tourists. This company takes advantage of the
large, flat open space near the camp to use as a runway for airplanes to bring tourists
directly on to the campsite. Further research and the listing on ANI’s website states that it
provides flights various sites across the entire continent of Antarctica, including one trip that
takes tourists by air directly to the geographic south pole. ANI also provides numerous
adventure activities that include safaris to many mountains, adventure skiing, a marathon in
the ice, as well as pre-packaged 60 days long expeditions to the south pole, following the
steps of some of the early explorers including the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott, and first
person to reach the south pole, Roald Amundsen (Maher, Steel and McIntosh, 2003).

Human activity on land has had negative effects on the wildlife of Antarctica, with the
introduction of foreign organism, including diseases, and pollution (de Villiers, 2008).
Humans may act as a vector for transmission of diseases and the introduction of new
viruses to the wildlife of Antarctica (Curry et al, 2002). The growth of the tourism activity in
Antarctica is increasing the risk of a potential outbreak of a virus that may drastically affect
the species on the continent (Gallagher, Kerry, Jones, & Shellam, No Date).

Air-based tourism

Literature regarding the future of tourism in Antarctica suggests that several airstrips and
one hotel will be constructed in Antarctica by 2010, allowing tourists to make day trips to the
continent. Cruises will lose the exclusivity and will slowly be replaced by air travel. Amelung
and Lamers (2006) predict that by 2020, the landing strips have grown into hubs that will be
used extensively for tourism purposes. Access to the continent will become easier than ever,
thus further devastating the environment.

Airborne tourism to the Antarctic is smaller in terms of the number of tourists, compared with
cruise ship and land based tourism. Airborne tourism for Antarctica involves over-flights
without landings, as well as flights that land on the continent (Bauer, 2001). Airborne tourism
without landings began in 1956 with a Chilean airline flying over islands near the continent
(Headland, 1994). Until 1977, no regular flights were made over Antarctica. Qantas and Air
New Zealand began operations, and frequency of the flights grew steadily over the years
(Bauer, 2001). These flights took passengers over Antarctica in an eleven-hour journey, of
which 90 minutes consisted of the view of the continent bellow (Maher, Steel and McIntosh,
2003). This form of tourism ended dramatically on 28 November 1979, when an Air New
Zealand flight crashed into Mt. Erebus killing all personnel on board (Associated Press,
2009).

However, there is a lack of research on the impacts airplanes have on the environment of
Antarctica. It is clear that airlines pollute, however, the effects of pollution to the ecosystem
of Antarctica solely due to flights over Antarctica has yet to be researched. Some of the
environmental degradation that may be caused by airplanes could relate to its effects on
migratory birds and the effect of noise pollution on certain species (de Villiers, 2008).

AGENCIES PROTECTING ANTARCTICA

Even though Antarctica, the largest wilderness on earth, gets relatively a low percentage of
tourists compared with other destinations, it still needs some form of protection and authority
to guide any human activity on the continent or its surrounding waters. The Antarctic Treaty
is a system of complex arrangements made to regulate relations of different states on the
continent of Antarctica (Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty, 2008). This was first signed in
Washington on December 1st, 1959 by the governments of Argentina, Australia, Belgium,
Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union of the time, the
United Kingdom, and the United States (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, 2007).
The original parties to this treaty for twelve nations, where were conducting various activities
on Antarctica (Cater and Lowman, 1994). Today, 47 governments, representing more than
two thirds of the population of the world, have signed the treaty, including the two major
developing economies with a massive potential tourism, India and China (Antarctic
Connection, 2008).

In 1990, the Antarctic Treaty System adopted the Protocol on Environmental Protection, also
known as the Madrid Protocol (United Nations Environment Programme, 2008). The protocol
involves governing all human activities on the continent, including limiting various tourism
activities, which may affect the environment in a negative manner (Australian Antarctic
Division, 2008). The treaty prohibits active killing of any animals, including fishing.

It promotes the practice of proper waste management, ensuring that no import of foreign
biological material, such as soil, seeds, and plants are released into Antarctic ecosystem.
Over the years, the Antarctic Treaty System has adopted and implemented more than 300
new policies that protect the continent (British Antarctic Survey, 2007).

With the growth of tourism, the Antarctic Treaty has also grown in size; there are now 21
sets of rules as opposed to just eleven, ten years ago (Antarctic Treaty Consultative
Meeting, 2008). Despite the progress made, regulation of tourism in Antarctica is relatively
weak (Haase, Lamers and Amelung, 2009). Hemmings and Roura (2003) suggest that there
may be a discrepancy between the reports and the reality. They assert that some of the
activities conducted for tourism purposes do not match the protocol. The initial
environmental evaluation that was conducted when the Madrid Protocol came into practice
underestimated the growth of tourism. Bastmeijer & Roura (2004) explain that the decision-
making process and the implementation of findings are perhaps too slow to keep up with the
vibrant growth of tourism in Antarctica. Many of the regulations that have been implemented
to govern the tourism activities are not legally binding, since no one country has rule over
the continent. The rules are left to be interpreted by the governments of the tour operators
(Kriwoken & Rootes, 2000). A strong governing body comprised of all the nations who have
signed the Antarctic Treaty to implement a method of visitor management, or possibly even
a kind of a visa system, needs to be implemented.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators started in 1991, as a result of the
sinking of the Argentinean vessel, the Bahai Paraiso. Seven tour operators founded the
association to govern the traffic of tourism, stating that the governing body is dedicated to
implementing and regulating environmentally responsible activities in travel to the Antarctic,
while conducting all activities under the governing agreements of the Antarctic Treaty
(IAATO, 2009). However, not all tour operators are in agreement with the IAATO (Haase,
Lamers and Amelung, 2009).

The IAATO overview of tourism in the 2002-2003 season states that approximately 2,799
tourists travelled to Antarctica on board vessels, or aircrafts that were not registered with the
IAATO (IAATO, 2003).

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The analysis of the negative impacts tourism has caused to the fragile environment of
Antarctica has revealed a significant condition. Many academics and scientific institutions
across the globe have reason to believe that irreparable damage has been done to the
environment, and will continue to damage the ecosystem. In the period of exploration to the
continent, scientists and explorers paid little attention to the potential environmental
degradation as a direct result of the activities conducted. The primary concern was to
explore the newly discovered continent and gather scientific data. A severe chain of events
that caused devastation to the environment resulted the formation of the Antarctic Treaty
System to govern the activities that took place in the Antarctic. Academic research from the
early 1980 has helped the growing awareness of the harmful behaviour of tourists on the
continent, consequential gave birth to a new era in managing nature based tourism for the
Antarctic. The emergence of formal check and balances has relieved the stress on the
environment dramatically, however, it is still yet to be perfected. A constant assessment
needs to be carried out to analyze the current, and potential short-term and long-term harm
done to the unique landscape of Antarctica, and forever preserve Earth’s last great
wilderness.

Tourists have outnumbered the personnel working at the scientific research station, and
have been successively growing a dependence on the existing infrastructure of the stations
for conducting tourism activities. Priority needs be given in order to protect the scientific
integrity of the region. A balanced system of protecting the aesthetic qualities of that
landscape and the conservation of the wildlife, along with a responsible operation of tourism
is a must. The effects of ship-based tourism to the marine ecosystem need to be governed
by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. Land-based tourism, along
with airborne tourism, needs a specialized governing body for each form of tourism.

There is an urgent need to set up one centralized governing body that controls every aspect
of human activity on the continent, from scientific research to tourism. Even though the
continent of Antarctica is not governed by one specific country, a formal visa system might
help with the growing number of tourists arriving into the Antarctic.
Extensive research needs to be conducted in the area of tourism management, and visitor
management for the continent of Antarctica. There is still a limitation of information and data
regarding the proper enforcement of the laws governing the continent. Much of the existing
research conducted focuses on the impacts of tourism as well as other human activities on
the various species that exist on the continent. Widespread research has also been
conducted on finding detailed statistics of tourism, however, this paper aims to shed light
upon the need for a study that researches the methods of enforcing control over all human
activities. A formal study needs to be conducted on the proper enforcement of the governing
bodies of Antarctica. The operation of tourism needs to be observed intensively in order to
conduct proper research to find methods of implementing a central government for the
continent of Antarctica.

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