Iceberg sparks tour rush
Last summer’s news that a behemoth iceberg detached from one of Antarctica’s largest floating ice shelves has sparked a sense of urgency among tourists eager to check the continent off their travel bucket lists.
That’s especially the case for Chinese tourists, so much so the Chinese Government has established a new list of rules for people visiting Antarctica: No hunting. No leaving behind solid waste. And no touching or feeding the penguins, according to the South China Morning Post.
Although it’s the coldest, driest and windiest place on Earth, Antarctica offers tourists an adventure unlike any other — glacier camping, seeing king penguins up close, kayaking around icebergs and attending worldclass scientific lectures. Its beauty and the threat of increasing Antarctic ice loss are enough to get tourists to pay at least US$5000 ($6891) to visit the world’s only continent without cities or time zones.
Tourism in Antarctica has risen from fewer than 2000 visitors in the 1980s to more than 45,000 visitors from around the world last year. As far as tourism numbers go that may not seem high, but in a remote and increasingly vulnerable continent whose primary residents are researchers, tourism comes at an environmental cost.
Cruise ships bringing travellers from Chilean and Argentine ports, for example, also carry air pollutants that can further devastate the region.
In the late 80s and 90s generally middle-aged or older people on cruises went ashore at a few locations and looked at wildlife, historic sites and maybe a current station, said Alan Hemmings, a polar legal expert who once commanded a British Antarctica base.
“Now people want to go paragliding, waterskiing, diving or a variety of other things.”
Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration officials set the new set of rules after realising it was one of four countries that had signed the Antarctic Treaty but had not established regulations for its citizens, the Post reported.
There weren’t any tourists visiting Antarctica in 1959, when the treaty was first signed by a dozen nations who supported peaceful scientific study there. Now the signatory countries have grown to 53.
Chinese citizens last year made up 12 per cent of Antarctica’s visitors, with about 5500 people making trips that typically include chartered flights or cruises that cost almost US$16,000. The number of Chinese visitors between 2016 and 2017 was second only to almost 15,000 Americans, according to IAATO data.
China’s rules are meant to support its sustainable development in Antarctica. It has four Antarctic research sites and on Wednesday began working on a fifth.
Ice tourism is booming.