Environmentalist on Antarctica: ‘Do We Want This to Become Disneyland’?

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  11.26.07 | 12:59 PM ET

imageThe sinking of the cruise ship Explorer in Antarctica a few days ago has prompted some interesting questions, including the one posed by Jim Barnes in a story in today’s New York Times. “There’s been kind of an explosion of tourism in Antarctica,” said Barnes, who is the executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. “Do we want this to become Disneyland or do we want some controls?” While roughly 7,000 tourists visited Antarctica in 1992-93, more than 35,000 are expected this season, and because the region is outside any one country’s domain, controls seem to be few and far between.



Writes Times reporter Ian Austen: “There are no obvious answers about who is responsible for dealing with any environmental damage the Explorer may cause or how methods can be created to prevent future sinkings.”

Austen continues:

Developing consensus among the treaty nations is a slow-moving process, and the resulting resolutions are not binding, particularly on non-treaty countries like Liberia, where the Explorer was registered. “At the end of the day, there’s no military or coast guard for Antarctica,” Mr. Barnes said. “It’s a difficult enforcement situation.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Barnes said he was heartened last month when the treaty group adopted a resolution asking its members to discourage or ban ships under their control with more than 500 passengers from landing on the continent.

Related on World Hum:
* A Brief and Awkward Tour of the End of the Earth
* From Antarctica to the Silk Road: More from the New York Times ‘Photography Issue’

Related on TravelChannel.com:
* Extreme Cruises: The Arctic and Antarctica

Photo by scottwilson via Flickr, (Creative Commons).

2 Comments for Environmentalist on Antarctica: ‘Do We Want This to Become Disneyland’?

Ron Mader 11.28.07 | 7:42 AM ET

Is there any reason to promote tourism in the Antarctic? Does this in any way help local conservation? I wouldn’t be the one to suggest that we all just stay at home, but some parts of the globe should simply be uncruised and untouristed.

Jason Anthony 11.28.07 | 12:25 PM ET

So much to say about this, but I’ll keep my comment brief. First, no one familiar with Antarctic tourism is surprised that a tour vessel has sunk. We’ve been waiting for it. That this was one of the most ice-strengthened vessels should be a wake-up call, even for the merely self-regulated industry. There are no teeth in whatever rulings exist for protection of the Southern Ocean; witness the depletion of Patagonian toothfish, the taking of hundreds of Minke whales by the Japanese. The increasing numbers of larger ships, regardless of how far offshore they may stay, mean that further environmental and human crises are expected. The IAATO will be far more concerned with preserving their client base - telling them that the voyage is a safe one - than in forcing its members to build new Antarctic-bound vessels. Perhaps the best thing we can do to help the industry rethink its priorities is to scare away their customers.

On a lighter note, I liked the NYTimes photo of the Explorer clients packed knew-to-knee in the Chilean Herc for their flight north; that was an authentic Antarctic experience.

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