Is It Really Responsible to Visit Antarctica?

Iceberg in Antarctica

Antarctica is one of the most vulnerable regions on Earth. The Antarctic ice sheets are melting at an unprecedented rate and its delicate ecosystems are under threat in a range of different ways. This polar region is like to other – under no government control, this truly is the planet’s last true wilderness. Interestingly, and tellingly, this government-free land seems to be one of the best managed in the world. It has never experienced war and its delicate ecosystem is wholly protected. Responsible tourism in Antarctica allows privileged visitors to set foot on this special land – the planet’s final frontier.

Is It Really Responsible to Visit Antarctica?

Many environmentalists would argue that the only truly responsible course of action is not to visit Antarctica at all. A long-haul destination, that is really only visitable by plane, Antarctica visits do take a considerable environmental toll. A flight to Buenos Aires, Ushuaia or Antarctica will obviously contribute to climate change – thereby threatening the very environment that visitors come here to see.

But it is important to consider that in this regard, flights to reach Antarctica are no different than flights taken anywhere else on the globe. Every flight you take, along with the carbon footprint you rack up when choosing food grown in far-flung locations, or buying items made on the other side of the world, contributes to the destruction of this precious environment. Antarctic flights are not exclusive in this regard.

All that we as individuals can do, is try to make the most sustainable, ethical and environmentally friendly decisions in every aspect of our lives. We must weigh up all of the options – sometimes choosing the least damaging of several less than optimal options – to generally trend in the right direction.

Choosing whether or not to fly to Antarctica (and whether or not to take flights in general) can be an agonising choice. The question that we must ask ourselves is whether the good that could come from our travels will outweigh the negative impact on people and our planet.

Responsible tourism in Antarctica can bring a range of positive outcomes. For one thing, seeing this breathtaking region of our planet, that so few get to see for themselves, can strengthen our resolve to protect and preserve it. Sustainable travel of this kind can be truly transformative. Many Antarctic tourists have gone on to make huge and profound changes in their daily lives.

What is more, those who travel here to see these pristine landscapes for themselves can go on to enthuse and inspire others to create positive change. Responsible tourism in Antarctica creates ambassadors – environmental crusaders – who can go on to spread the world about the importance of halting global warming and pollution in all its forms, and protecting our precious planet.

Another thing to bear in mind is that without the responsible tourism industry, scientists and others working to protect and preserve Antarctic environments would not be able to do their work. Their efforts are in part funded by tourism to the region and the tourism and scientific communities here work hand in hand. It is likely that the one could not thrive without the other.

Responsible Tourism in Antarctica

If you do decide to visit Antarctica, it is important to ensure that your tour operator is registered with The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). IAATO ensures that all environmental rules and regulations are adhered to. Your operator should send you comprehensive trip guidelines before you depart, and guides on board should explain the various rules and regulations that you must adhere to during your visit.

Responsible Tourism Tips

The following tips should help you make sure that you make the most of your visit to Antarctica, and to ensure that you do no harm during your visit:

* Make the most of the expert guides (scientists, historians, geographers, divers, filmmakers, photographers etc.) on board your vessel. They can be an invaluable source of knowledge and all sorts of information.

* Make a donation to the Scott Polar Research Institute. By donating, you can make a contribution to general Antarctic research, which includes monitoring climate change and its effect on the continent.

* Support the RSPB’s Albatross Campaign. The albatross is sadly threatened by long-line fishing. The birds swallow the hooks embedded in the fish and are dragged underwater and drowned. Donating to the campaign will help promote simple solutions which can prevent this problem.

* Keep your distance from the wildlife. On an Antarctic trip you may see all sorts of wildlife – from seals to penguins, and a wide range of other birds. But it is important not to get too close, as this could disrupt their natural behavior. Never feed, touch or obstruct wildlife. Don’t use flash photography, and keep noise to a minimum.

* Take special care not to import ‘alien matter’ to the fragile Antarctic and Sub-Atarctic ecosystems. Seeds, plant matter, bacteria and other micro-biota could contaminate and endanger the ecosystems. Boats provide special boots that must be worn during shore visits. These are disinfected between each excursion to reduce the changes of contamination.

* It should really go without saying – but obviously you should take care not to leave anything behind, and should never remove anything (shells/ rocks/ plants) from Antarctica.

These are just some ways to make sure that you make the most of your visit and enjoy this beautiful location in as low impact a way as possible. Of course, responsible tourism in Antarctica does not end at the conclusion of your visit. A truly responsible tourist would go on to disseminate the information that they have learned, and do their best to create as sustainable and eco-friendly a life as possible when they return home.

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