Ice­berg sparks tour rush

Herald on Sunday - - WORLD -

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.

Getty Im­ages

Ice tourism is boom­ing.

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