Challenges of Ecotourism in Antarctica

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Antarctica is one of the largest and most fragile environments on earth. It is rare and unique, and few people get the opportunity to visit such an extraordinary place. Antarctica’s unique environment and climate sets it apart from other tourist destinations. However, the hostile wilderness creates many challenges for ecotourism. There is a concern regarding the high concentration of tourists and their environmental impact at the few landing sites available. The real debate is whether tourism can benefit, or threaten the conservation of Antarctica. Ecotourism, in its early historical origins has been closely linked to nature – oriented tourism. For example, Laarman and Durst, in reference to ecotourism, defined it as a nature tourism where a traveler is interested and drawn to a destination because of its features and natural history. The visit combines education, recreation, and often adventure’ (Laarman and Durst 1987:5). Defining ecotourism is not easily done, difficulties defining it are mainly due to the multidimensional nature of the definitions, and the fact that each dimension involved represents a continuum of possibilities (Blamey 1997). The Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as ‘responsible travel to natural areas, which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people’ (Western 1993:8). Ceballos-Lascurain (1987: 14) defines ecotourism as ‘traveling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific objective of studying, admiring, and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural manifestations (both past and present) found in these areas’. The tourism industry of Antarctica is often overlooked as a factor of environmental degradation. It is important that more attention is drawn to assessing the current state of this large continent. Beck (1994) states that, tourists, scientists, and other visitors to Antarctica have tremendous environmental impacts. Tourist shipping can pose an environmental risk, and there is good reason for concern. There have been several marine accidents in recent years. There was the case of an Argentinean supply vessel Bahia Paraiso, which ran a ground on January 28, 1989, spilling 600 metric tones of fuel into Antarctica’s pristine waters (Culver 1991). Other environmental impacts include engine emissions that contribute to air pollution. The noise generated from outboard motors on inflatable zodiacs, turbulence created from tourist ships and the “grey water” sewage they emit also creates harmful effects. More responsibility is being demanded out of eco tourists visiting Antarctica. For example Salen Lindblad’s 164-passenger ship the Frontier Spirit has been reinforced, and also contains a sewage treatment plant, refrigerated waste storage area, and a special storage area for non-biodegradable waste (Cebellos-Lascurain 1996). Another main concern is in the peninsula region of Antarctica where there are several highly concentrated, high profile sites. The concentration of tourism activities leads to the potential for over visitation in these areas. A present study of Magellanic penguins demonstrates that human impact puts a great amount of stress on the species. Simple human presence can be physiologically stressful for breeding at nest sites (Fowler 1999). The Antarctic environment is very fragile and not used to human activities. However the study also found that birds exposed to high levels of tourists are not effected over time and concludes that as a result tourism should be concentrated to certain areas while others are kept off limits to human presence. People have been going to Antarctica for over 100 years. Prior to 1950, nearly all trips to Antarctica were either exploratory or scientific expeditions (Cessford 1997). As a result of human activity in the area there has been a connection with industrial, national and scientific programs. Human activity has also caused the...
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