Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Penguins threatened by their own charisma

The Canadian cruiseship "Explorer" sunk in 2007, prompting concerns over regulating tourist vessels in Antarctica. All of the people on board were rescued, but oil continues to leak from the submerged vessel. Fuerza Aerea de Chile via European Pressphoto Agency, via the New York Times. 

Like the sea levels, tourism to Antarctica is on the rise. Via the Bellingham Herald (emphasis mine throughout): 
In the past, most shipping in Antarctica has been limited to scientific vessels bringing researchers or supplies. But traffic has burgeoned in recent years as tourists flock to see the world's last great wilderness.
Annual tourist numbers have grown from about 10,000 a decade ago to 45,000 last year. Tourists can pay between $3,000 and $24,000 for a two-week trip, in style ranging from basic hotel to all-out luxury.
The Antarctic Treaty nations--43 countries ranging from the obvious, including Australia, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa; to the not-at-all obvious, like Turkey, Cuba and Belgium--are meeting this week to create regulations for ships operating in the area.  The hope is to prevent deadly wrecks caused by inadequate technical outfitting, and to protect the environment from oil spills.  Some of the problems with increased tourism are outlined in this section of coolantarctica.com:
While tourists may only only spend a relatively small time on landings, it is by its nature relatively "high-impact" time - compared to a scientist or electrician say who probably spend most of their time on a permanent or semi-permanent base. Tourists also, by their nature will want to visit the most picturesque and wildlife rich areas of Antarctica, and they tend to do so in numbers far greater than the entire compliment [sic] of many Antarctic bases.
There is also the fact that those national programmes that are supplied by ship (as the majority are) have relatively few visits of those ships, whereas in the season, the great majority of all shipping activity in Antarctica is of tour ships. There have been accidents with ships being grounded on uncharted rocks and there have been oil-spills.
Statistics from this site report that about 36% of tourists to Antarctica are Americans, followed by Brits at 16%, Germans at 11% and Aussies at 7.2%. Most of the tourists go for a cruise, or make a brief landing by boat-probably just to say they've stood on Antarctica. Around 10% of people either kayak, walk or scuba dive, and only 0.02% of people go snowboarding, despite all the very tasty powder. (Maybe the sudden extreme changes in weather, or the complete absence of snow bunnies deters them.)

The Antarctic Treaty took effect on June 1961, and sets out guidelines for the use of the southernmost continent. The articles stipulate that Antarctica should be used for peaceful purposes only (although tell that to the Predators, who are using Bouvetøya Island as a game reserve), freedom for scientific investigations by all nations, and a ban on nuclear testing and radioactive waste disposal.

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