Tourism in Antarctica isn't like tourism in other extreme environments - in some ways, it's much more dangerous. Take any indicator - temperature, ocean conditions, accessibility - and Antarctica in a sense wins because it is colder, icier, and more difficult to get to than anywhere else. So it makes sense that New Zealand would try to block an adventurous rower from his plans to row around Antarctica by himself. Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), the branch of government responsible for marine safety, would be responsible for rescuing the rower, Oliver Hicks, in case of an accident. MNZ believes that an accident is almost inevitable because of the harsh conditions on the Southern Ocean. Hicks will be using a boat that is powered by rowing but has cabins in which he can sleep, prepare food, and store supplies. The boat is also allegedly designed to withstand Southern Ocean conditions.
MNZ has great reason to be skeptical of Hicks' plans, however. Previous attempts have resulted in accidents requiring rescue, and in one case an adventurer drowned. Rescue missions are costly and put rescuers themselves in danger. Hicks' journey would take him 500 days and would cover 24,000 square kilometers, or just under 15,000 miles. He plans to halt for a few months during the brutal Antarctic winter on the island of South Georgia.
Hicks' response to New Zealand's refusal to let him set out on his journey was to travel to Australia. Australian officials are hardly excited about the project, but unlike their New Zealand counterparts cannot stop him from leaving. If he needs rescuing, MNZ will still be on the hook. Hicks has already accomplished some impressive feats of solo rowing - he is the only person to have rowed from America to the United Kingdom alone - and feels confident that he is capable of completing his mission and staying safe.
This incident underscores the need for special tourism policies for Antarctica. The human desire to undertake difficult and dangerous adventures is admirable, but is disregarding the wishes of those who would have to rescue you also admirable? It's not as if MNZ could just ignore Hicks in the event of an accident, even if he wanted them to do so. It seems a shame that governments are hamstrung in this way. While this type of tourism doesn't represent the kind of environmental threat that we at ASOC are most concerned about, it does point to the overall lack of regulation for Antarctic tourism that would protect both people and the environment. Laws and rules no doubt deaden the souls of expeditioners, but they keep people safe and prevent unnecessary crises.