Antarctica Tourism (ANTARCT)
CASE NUMBER: 80
CASE MNEMONIC: ANTARCT
CASE NAME: Antarctic Tourism Impacts
1. The Issue
A few decades ago no one would have dreamed of spending
their vacation at the world's coldest and most desolate place:
Antarctica. Times have changed. As early as the late 1950s,
organized tourism to Antarctica began. In recent years, the
growing number of tourists has placed increasing strains on
Antarctica's ecological systems. Tourism affects the Antarctic
in three principle ways. First, they interfere with very delicate
science that is carried out on the continent by researches from
around the globe. Second, they had an impact on the unique
environment and ecosystem. Third, they pose a potential hazard
to themselves, as accidents and people getting lost in this
wilderness are not uncommon, and the research bases simply do not
have the resources or time to provide large-scale search and rescue
While the specific environmental impacts of tourism are still
debated, it is possible to examine what many scientists have
feared for years: humans are ruining Antarctica.
In 1989, the issue of tourism in Antarctica was pushed to
the forefront of scientific discussion. The reason: the grounding of
an Argentine supply vessel carrying more than 80 tourists.
Considering that most tourists to the Antarctic are from the
United States, it could not have happened at a worse time in a worse
place. Just as scientist and tour companies were beginning to
discuss the future of tourism in Antarctica, the freighter Bahia
Paraiso, carrying 250,000 plus gallons (946,350 liters) of diesel
fuel, rammed itself onto some rocks less than 2 miles (3
kilometers) from Palmer Station, the U.S. research base on Anvers
For most people, Antarctica is a thin white strip on the
bottom of their maps. Actually, it is a 5.4 million-square mile
(13.9 million square kilometers) disk, almost completely covered
by ice that averages 1.9 miles thick (3 kilometers), locking up 90
percent of the world's fresh water. The Antarctic peninsula
trails off one side of this disk, reaching to within 620 miles (1000
kilometers) of South America and shadowed by a scattering of
islands. It is here, in a comparatively balmy climate, where
summer temperatures can reach 60F (15C), that most of the
Antarctic wildlife gathers.
It is these very pristine features -- plus a concentration
of wildlife and relatively easy access to the rest of the world via
South America -- that attract research stations. For these same
reasons, this is also where tourism concentrates.
Tourism in Antarctica is a growth industry. The first
cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula took place between 1959 and 1962.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the number of tourist cruises to the
region increased, and there were regular sightseeing flights over
the land. These flights ended suddenly after an Air New Zealand
aircraft crashed on Mount Erebus in 1979, but fly-overs are
beginning again in the Atlantic and Ross Sea sectors. In the
1970s only a trickling of people made their way to the continent, but
by 1988, more than 800 visitors had made the ice cap their vacation
destination. A record of 6,600 people visited Antarctica during
the austral summer of 1992-93 (November-March), and nearly 8,000
visitors were expected for the 1993-94 season.
It is not entirely clear what kind of impact tourists are
having on Antarctica, and it seems that no clear cut answer will
be found soon, as scientist and tour guides, visitors and members of
Congress continue to debate the question. However, several
possible effects can be pinpointed and discussed.
The first argument comes from scientists and researchers.
Partly because of its dangers, but primarily because of its
scientific and ecological importance, many scientists feel that
Antarctica should be dedicated to research only. During the
austral summer, there are some 3,500 scientists and support
personnel manning 38 research bases; this gives a ratio of eight
tourists to every three scientific personnel. Antarctica has the
lowest population density on earth and those working there would
like to keep it that way. The official argument is that tourists
are unwanted interlopers who siphon off valuable time and
resources when visiting the research stations and interfere with
experiments and research facilities. With a great deal of laboratory
work being done, heavy emphasis is placed on controlled experiments,
including temperature. Sometimes, by simply opening a door, one
may wreck an experiment. Some experiments may be sensitive to
vibrations, which is a problem if somebody accidentally bumps an
There is some validity to the charge that unstructured
visits by tourists can interfere with scientists' schedules. With
such a short season, any undue time away from the lab or the field
can mean missed opportunities. An occasional visit by a cruise ship
is a welcome break from routine for researcher bases, but it can be
a burden when cruise ships carrying between 80 and 450 visitors
stop twice a week at a place like Palmer Station, a U.S. base that
has a maximum summer compliment of 45. The tourists' stops there
became so disruptive to the staff during the 1989-90 season that
officials refused to let visitors from some cruise ships into the
Another charge often hurled at tourists is that they wreak
havoc on the Antarctic environment. It has been suggested
groups, such as Greenpeace that tourists litter beaches, stress
animals and destroy delicate mosses and lichens that will take a
century to grow back. Worse yet, a cruise ship accident, such as
that of the Bahia Pairiso in 1989, could cause a catastrophic oil
spill that would have disastrous effects on the environment and would
also pose serious cleanup problems.
The vast oil slick caused by the grounding of the ship
killed thousands of krill, the tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that are
a major food source for fish, birds and whales, and actually is the
base of the Antarctic food chain. Cormorants that normally feed
on the krill apparently ingested oil while preening themselves, and
many died when their stomachs hemorrhaged. Oil soaked penguins
froze to death, and nearly all of the skua chicks in the area
died as a result of the oil. Equally troubling was the effect the
spill had on scientific research. For example, a five-year project
on kelp gulls or penguins was seriously disrupted. Also, scientists
have noticed changes in animal behavior after the spill. It could
be something as simple as acting a bit differently or their timing
or productivity being off. While scientists admit it may or may
not be a result of the oil: they simply do not know. An event
such as the oil spill can take several years before the ramifications
are truly known. In the meantime, certain experiments are all
Tourists leave permanent marks on the environment in the
form of trash and garbage they leave behind. This is a hotly debated
item, as some scientists claim the only pollution problems in
Antarctica result from the permanent visitors. On the shore of
Cape Royds, about 20 miles up the coast from a U.S. base at
McMurdo Sound, stands the hut built in 1907 by British explorer
Ernest Shackleton. For insulation, food supplies were stacked along
the outside wall. They are still there, with labels plainly legible
and contents unspoiled after more than eight decades' exposure to
the weather. In an environment where temperatures can reach as
low as -70 cenitgrade in the winter, it is well understood that
Each year, more than 2,000 million tons of cargo and food
and seven million gallons of petroleum products are transported to
U.S. bases in Antarctica alone. Virtually all these materials are
ultimately disposed of there as well. At most research stations,
neither sewage treatment nor controlled incineration is required,
resulting in vast garbage dumps, raw sewage being pumped into the
ocean, and urine being placed in 55 gallon drums and being
dropped off ships only a short distance from shore. Other drums
containing waste oil are deposited in one of the makeshift landfills,
have sprung leaks, and are spilling the waste into streams that flow
directly into McMurdo sound. While some agreements exist with
regard to waste disposal, most have been ignored by those
countries with research bases in Antarctica. Only recently, under
pressure from environmental groups, have concerted efforts begun to
clean up the landscape.
While environmental groups and governments who are party to
various treaties on Antarctica debate the merits of tourism, it
is clear that the industry is going to continue growing. As
recently as 1991, seven North American tour operators banded together
and established an association aimed at promoting tourism as well as
environmental protection in Antarctica. The association set its
own guidelines with regard to tourism, and expects that all
visitors traveling through one of their charter member tour
operators will adhere to the guidelines, in addition to hoping
that other operators will do the same. The International Association
of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) has determined that a maximum of
100 visitors at a time should be allowed on shore in Antarctica.
The IAATO sees no problem in implementing their guidelines,
especially considering the costs of most tours. Most visitors
pay anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000 each for a complete tour
package. It makes sense, then, that most tourists tend to be
wealthy and influential. Because of the type of visitors
Antarctica attracts, many groups, such as the IAATO hopes that
they will serve as goodwill ambassadors for the preservation of the
3. Related Cases
Key Word Clusters
(1) Trade Product = TOURism
(2) Bio-geography = POLAR
(3) Environmental Problem = Pollution Land [POLL]
4. Author: James Grall
B. LEGAL Clusters
5. Discourse and Status: DISagreement and INPROGress
While it is largely agreed that the environment is seriously
endangered by scientific as well as tourist related activities,
no official agreements or treaties exist with regard to regulating
the tourism industry. Several international treaties do exist which
lay out guidelines for scientific activities in Antarctica and
which aim to protect the continent.
6. Forum and Scope: TREATY and MULTIlateral
Due to the fact that Antarctica is a "land without a
country," the forum for imposition of guidelines, regulations, etc.
is multi-lateral in scope. Some federal governments, e.g. the United
States Congress, have moved to enact legislation that will set laws
and regulations for that country's specific bases. This type of
regulation is not binding on other parties in Antarctica.
7. Decision Breadth: 16
From 1908 to 1943, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, France,
Australia, Chile and Argentina, in that order, laid claim to 85
percent of Antarctica. These claims were based at least in part
on early explorations and scientific expeditions. The United States
and the Soviet Union declined to claim specific portions of the
continent based on their early activities in the region and never
recognized the territorial sovereignty of the seven claimant
states. Moreover, the claims of several countries, including
Chile, Argentina and the United Kingdom overlap. The 1940s and
1950s saw various flare-ups among the states with overlapping
claims in Antarctica, as well as conflicts between the United
States and Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.
Several working groups and cooperative procedures among the countries
involved evolved into the Antarctic Treaty that was signed on
December 1, 1959, and entered into force on June 23, 1961. The
treaty has two primary objectives: (1) to maintain Antarctica for
peaceful uses only, prohibiting all military activities, weapons
testing, nuclear explosions and disposal of radioactive waste and
(2) to promote freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica
and international cooperation to that end.
As now, 16 decision-making or "consultative" states are
party to that treaty. Any country that has acceded to the treaty can
become a consultative party during such time as it demonstrates
interest in Antarctica through establishment of a scientific
station, dispatch of a scientific expedition or other substantial
activity. Sixteen more countries have acceded to the treaty but
do not hold "consultative status."
The 12 original signatories were: The United Kingdom, South
Africa, Belgium, Japan, United States, Norway, France, New
Zealand, Soviet Union, Argentina, Australia, and Chile. As of
February, 1993, there were 41 members of the Antarctic Treaty System.
Parties to the Treaty in addition to the original signatories
include: Poland, Germany, Brazil, India, China, Uruguay, Sweden,
Italy, Spain, Finland, Peru, Korea, Netherlands, and Ecuador,
Since the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, other
treaties and conventions that deal with the Antarctic, albeit not
necessarily with tourism, have been concluded. These include:
* 1972 - Convention of the Conservation of Antarctic
* 1980 - Convention of Antarctic Marine Living Resources
* 1982 - United Nations Law of the Sea Convention
* 1988 - Convention of the Regulation of Antarctic
Mineral Resource Activities (The Madrid Protocol)
In addition to the countries listed above, several Non-
Governmental Organizations have taken a stake in the protection
of Antarctica. Some of these include the following.
* International Institute for Environment and Development
* International Union for the Conservation of Nature ad
Natural Resources (IUCN)
* Antarctic Project and the Antarctic and Southern Ocean
* World Meteorological Association (WMO)
* Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)
* Food and Agriculture Organization (UN - FAO)
8. Legal Standing: TREATY
C. GEOGRAPHIC Clusters
9. Geographic Location
a. Geographic Domain: ANTARCtica
b. Geographic Site: ANTARCtica
c. Geographic Impact: ANTARCtica
The geographic domain and site of the dispute and activity
is confined to the continent of Antarctica. However, the continent
has a profound impact upon the entire planet. Scientists estimate
that 70 percent of the world's fresh water is locked away in
Antarctica's icecap, and, if it were ever to melt, sea levels
might rise by as much as 200 feet, inundating costal lands together
with their major cities. The continent's vast ice fields reflect
sunlight back into space, preventing the planet from overheating.
The cold water that the breakaway icebergs generate flows north
and mixes with equatorial warm water, producing currents, clouds, and
ultimately creating complex weather patters. The frigid waters
that lap the continent's edge are home to species of birds and
mammals that are found nowhere else on earth. The 1984 discovery
of a longtime gap high over the South Pole in the ozone layer
that protects the planet from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays
makes Antarctica a pivotal center for climate research and an early
warning system for possible global warming (see See MONTREAL Case
Thus, it is clear that any significant change in Antarctica,
even over hundreds of years, will undoubtedly affect the rest of the
10. Sub-national Factors: NO
11. Type of Habitat: POLAR
D. TRADE Cluster
12. Type of Measure: REGSTD
The issue of environmental impact of tourism and even of
permanent scientists and researchers is a complex one. The types
of measures that could be implemented to deal with the tourists
problem are licensing of tour operators, guides, etc., limiting
the number of tourists allowed to visit Antarctica, and regulatory
13. Direct vs. Indirect Impacts: DIRect
14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact
A. Directly Related: YES Tourism
B. Indirectly Related: NO
C. Not Related: NO
D. Process Related: YES HABITat Loss
One would like to think that any sort of measure aimed at
restricting the flow of tourists to Antarctica will improve the
current state of environmental degradation. However, the problem
is twofold. First, it appears as if Antarctica simply cannot
handle the amount of people that are visiting each year. One
must keep in mind that Antarctica has no infrastructure to speak of,
and has been designed almost solely as a research base. Secondly,
the behavior of people is a problem. In other words, the amount of
visitors can be regulated, but unless they act more responsibly
while in Antarctica, there will still be adverse environmental
15. Trade Product Identification: TOURism
The product is tourism, which includes travel agents,
flights, boats, hotels restaurants, embarkation fees, miscellaneous
16. Economic Data
17. Impact of Measure on Trade Competitiveness: LOW
18. Industry Sector: Services
19. Exporters and Importers: MANY and ANTARCtic
E. ENVIRONMENTAL Clusters
20. Environmental Problem Type: HABITat Loss
The environmental problems facing Antarctica fall into the
categories of species loss, pollution and global climate change.
The influx of tourists and scientists alike has led to the
general destruction of the habitat in Antarctica.
21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species
The following species might by impacted by suibstantial
inreases in tourism.
Weddell Seals - Lepronychotes Weddelli
Crabeater Seals - Lobodon carcinophagus
Leopard Seals - Hydrurga leptonyx
Arctic Fulmar Albatross - Fulmarus glacialis
Southern Giant Fulmar Albatross - Macronectes giganteus
Baleen Whales - Cetacea Mystacoceti (Six Species)
Toothed Whales - Cetacea Odontoceti (Six Species)
Skua Gulls - Choradriiformos stercoraniidae
Dolphin - Cetacea Delphinidae
Penguin - Emperor - Aptenodytes forsteri
- King - Aptenodytes patagonica
- Adelie - Pygoscelis adeliae
- Chinstrap - Pygoscelis antarctica
Petrel - Thalassoica antarctica
Cormorant - Phalacrocuraz harrisi
Sheathbill - Charadriiformes chionidiae
Plankton - Euphausia superba
22. Resource Impact and Effect: LOW and PRODuct
Pollution problems in all are rather low. None of the
animal species face extinction because of scientific or tourist
activities. However, this is not to dismiss the devastating
effects these groups have upon animal life. The problems of
waste and pollution, as well as oil spills have been discussed at
These problems pose the main threat to the depletion of animal
resources on the continent.
23. Urgency and Lifetime: MEDium and 100s of years
The urgency of the problem in Antarctica is hotly debated.
While most governments have admitted that their practices at
research stations have severely polluted the environment, no one
can seem to agree on the complete impact of Antarctic tourism.
24. Substitutes: Ecoturism [ECOTR]
No substitutes for these species exist. No substitutes for
"natural experiences" of Antartica exists, but tourist impact
could be far less.
F. OTHER Factors
25. Culture: YES
This constitutes a unique opportunity for humans and a
26. Trans-Boundary Issues: NO
27. Human Rights: NO
28. Relevant Literature
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[ENDNOTES WILL BE ADDED]
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