Sunday, June 22, 2008

Antarctic Treaty Parties Duck Tourism Challenges

The latest Antarctic treaty meeting concluded in Kiev without any agreement on proposed Resolutions addressing the increase of Antarctic tourism overall and on discouraging construction of hotels in Antarctica.

“ASOC is very disappointed that the Antarctic Treaty governments were unable to reach consensus on even a single step to reign in rapidly expanding tourism in the Antarctic Treaty Area,” said Ricardo Roura, Coordinator of ASOC’s tourism campaign. “In spite of many excellent and comprehensive papers covering the growth and diversification of the tourism industry, and the sinking of the M/V Explorer last November, there was no political will to take the actions needed to protect human lives and the environment.”

The environmental organizations that are members of ASOC regard this failure of Consultative Parties to protect the values of science and environmental protection espoused in the Antarctic Treaty and its Environmental Protocol as warning signs of a serious blockage in the governance system for Antarctica.

Tourism in Antarctica over the past decade has been characterized by steep annual increases, diversification, and geographic expansion. According to industry statistics, the number of visitors increased to 46,000 thousands in 2007-08. Of these, more than 30,000 passengers set foot ashore, up from 10,000 a decade earlier. The largest increase in the past season has been on ships carrying over 500 passengers, which do not conduct landings, with more than 13,000 passengers traveling in this fashion in 2007-08, up from 6000 the previous year. Tourism is also diversifying, with a growing focus on activities such as kayaking, diving, skiing and mountain-climbing.

ASOC is very concerned about the rapid increases in maritime traffic in the Antarctic in recent years, particularly between the months of November and March, largely fuelled by tourism. This has increased the probabilities of shipping accidents, underscored by the sinking of the Liberian- flagged M/V Explorer in the Antarctic Peninsula off King George Island on November 23, 2007.

No fatalities resulted from this accident, but an unknown amount of fuel was spilled in the Southern Ocean. This is the most serious of a series of shipping accidents in Antarctica in the past several years.

ASOC's Executive Director James Barnes notes, “The sinking of the Explorer should be a wake-up call to the Antarctic Treaty Parties. There are growing commercial pressures in the Antarctic region, and its environmental protection regime is under siege. It is past time for the governments to act.”

ASOC believes that the particularly negative forms of tourism currently emerging, including land- based tourism, should be constrained before their scale is beyond the capacity of the Antarctic Treaty System to control them.

There is currently no comprehensive tourism management regime in Antarctica. Existing tourism instruments do not yet impose any legal obligations and have not curbed the steep growth trajectory of the industry. The only tourism Measure approved in recent years would require mandatory insurance and contingency plans for tourism activities in Antarctica, but it has not yet become effective.

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