What is extreme tourism?
The environmental impact of an individual tourist is much greater than that of a
researcher. Landing sites are chosen for a special feature, so they quickly
become honeypots. More than 99% of Antarctica is covered with ice, so little is
left for tourist activity. Few visitors go on the ice.
Tourists only spend a short time ashore, but the impacts do not always reflect this. They want to visit the most picturesque and wildlife-rich areas. The impact is uneven but in places too great. Animals, especially penguins and seals, are disturbed by
more than a few people. Not used to humans, they do not like to be touched. If
they leave as a result, they may abandon eggs and young.
There have been accidents when ships have struck uncharted rocks or ice floes.
The great majority of shipping in Antarctic waters is tourist-based. Oil spills
are becoming an increasing hazard for wildlife. Tourist ships must discharge all
waste materials well away from the shore of Antarctica.
All tour operators are members of IAATO, which directs tourism to be safe and
environmentally friendly. Around 100 companies are involved. In line with the
Antarctic Treaty, tourism is an acceptable activity in Antarctica – it is the
scale that has to be controlled. Visitors are not allowed to visit Sites of
Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in order to conserve precious wildlife and
landscapes. Bird Island on South Georgia is one example.
Although tourist numbers have increased rapidly in Antarctica, protection remains a
priority. A permit must be gained for any activities on the continent. No ship
carrying over 500 passengers can land in Antarctica. Never the less, there is
concern that larger ships will eventually be allowed to land and that the volume
of tourists will be beyond sustainable limits.