Responsible Tourism and Shipping

Each summer, tens of thousands of tourists travel to Antarctica. As the number of people visiting this remote wilderness grows, all who visit must take extra care to preserve this special place in a time of great change.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

Antarctic tourism is changing

Antarctica is growing in popularity as a tourist destination. After almost doubling in the six years between the 2013-14 and 2019-20 seasons, the number of tourists visiting Antarctica is forecast to rise dramatically over the next decade.

Tourist with penguin

Growth

Between 2015 and 2020, the number of people visiting the Antarctic Peninsula jumped from 40,000 to more than 74,000.

vessel

Demand

Demand for Antarctic tourism is increasing. As of 2021, there are 16-20 new cruise vessels due for delivery within 3 years*.

kayak through ice

Adventure

Tour operators offer a growing range of adventure activities such as kayaking, snorkeling and transfer by helicopter.

view of iceberg from ship's bow

By Sea

Increased shipping traffic associated with tourism presents a threat to wildlife, humans and the environment.

By Air

In November 2021, an Airbus A340 carrying tourists landed on an Antarctic blue-ice runway for the first time.

*While some older vessels are being retired, the overall increase in carrying capacity will support 30-40% more tourists within only a few years.

exploring Antarctic peninsula on foot
exploring antarctic peninsula
Halfmoon Island, South Shetland Islands
tourists exploring ice sheet
Tourists and gentoo penguins on Antarctic glacier with snow algae.

Why it’s important

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM AND SHIPPING

The Antarctic Peninsula is more than just an attractive tourist destination. It is widely recognized as one of the most productive parts of the Southern Ocean, and the most vulnerable to a warming climate. 

The Antarctic Peninsula is among the most rapidly warming places on the planet, and the site of a growing krill fishery. Ninety-eight percent of all Antarctic tourism takes place on a stretch of the northern Antarctic Peninsula coastline only 300 miles (500 kilometers) in length. 

This region is also a popular summer destination for migratory whales, seals and seabirds that flock here to feed on abundant swarms of Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) and other marine life. But as the ocean warms, sea ice changes and human activity increases, this vibrant ecosystem is under stress.  

Urgent action is needed to prevent irreversible damage to this incredible polar wilderness.

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM AND SHIPPING

What are the impacts?

Most tourists (around 98%) visit the Antarctic Peninsula by ship, disembarking only for brief excursions ashore. While the Polar Code introduced polar-specific regulations for safe, environmentally responsible shipping, it does not provide adequate protection for polar waters.

Cruise ship

Black Carbon

Black carbon (soot) is produced when fossil fuels burn, for example in diesel engines and generators on ships. 

These microscopic particles can settle on snow and glaciers, darkening their surface, making them melt more quickly, and speeding up the process of sea level rise.

A 2022 study published in nature.com found elevated concentrations of black carbon in the snow around popular Antarctic tourism sites and research stations, compared to other areas of Antarctica.

The increased amounts of black carbon were linked to more rapid snow melt and loss of snowpack in the affected areas.  

Download black carbon infographic.

Gray Water

There are currently no restrictions on the dumping of gray water (bath, shower laundry and galley water) in the Southern Ocean. 

Gray water often contains chemical detergents, heavy metals, fecal coliforms, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and microplastics harmful to marine ecosystems.

ASOC supports a ban on the discharge of untreated gray water.

Find out more about the discharge of sewage and gray water from vessels in Antarctic Treaty waters.

Download ASOC information paper.

Antarctic Moss

Fragile ecosystems

Around 99% of Antarctica is permanently covered by ice. Small ice-free areas, which provide an essential habitat for Antarctic seabirds, plants and insects, are increasingly being shared with humans. 

Most tourist and scientific activity takes place in these limited ice-free areas, which means human impacts are concentrated in some of the most biodiverse and vulnerable regions of Antarctica. 

The climate crisis is already having significant impacts on these ecosystems, making them more vulnerable to colonization by invasive species. Despite efforts to limit the impact of human activities, several invasive species have already been detected on the Antarctic Peninsula

ASOC supports measures to prevent the introduction of non-native species via discharges of ballast water and fouling on vessel hulls.

ASOC also supports exploring regulations to limit the maximum tourist capacity, which have been successfully introduced in other ecologically sensitive areas.

Biofouling

Biofouling happens when organisms like algae or barnacles attach to the submerged parts of a vessel, like the hull or propellers. 

Invasive species can be transported and introduced into fragile ecosystems through biofouling.

As more ships visit and the Antarctic Peninsula continues to warm, there is an increased risk that introduced species will become established and threaten delicate marine ecosystems.

ASOC supports measures to prevent the introduction of non-native species via fouling on vessel hulls.

mountain ice ocean

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM AND SHIPPING

What ASOC is doing

ASOC advocates for a long-term precautionary approach to regulating Antarctic tourism. We support intelligent policies that place reasonable constraints on tourism in Antarctica, ensuring that the region remains a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM AND SHIPPING

How we work

ASOC encourages policymakers to consider the impacts of Antarctic tourism in the context of other pressures in the region, including the climate crisis and growing krill fisheries.

In light of the rapid growth in tourism predicted over the next decade, we recommend a review of both the regulations currently in place and the environmental assessment and monitoring process, to ensure they remain resilient and effective into the future.

Represent

We represent the global environmental community at Antarctic governance meetings, where the world’s leaders come together to decide the fate of Antarctica.

whaletail

Protect

We advocate for specially protected and managed areas across Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, including an Antarctic Peninsula Marine Protected Area.

Small fishing vessel

Monitor

We support ongoing monitoring of Antarctic ecosystems, including control areas, to determine the impacts of human activities and inform policy proposals.

CCAMLR Opening 2018

Inform

We present science-based policy proposals at Antarctic governance meetings, providing Treaty parties with information on how to protect the Antarctic environment.

Advocate

We advocate for the ATCM to adopt new precautionary regulations to manage growth in tourism. Establishing sensible policies now will prevent problems in the future.

What you can do

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM AND SHIPPING

Now is the time to act. As Antarctic tourism and shipping continue to grow, we must take urgent action now to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems from irreversible damage.  

Rally for Antarctica, May 2022. Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. Photo: Saskia Uppenkamp.
Rally for Antarctica, May 2022. Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. Photo: Saskia Uppenkamp.
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