Number of tourists visiting Antarctica surges over past decade
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
September 15, 2005
Ice in the Southern Hemisphere
The number of sightseers visiting Antarctica has surged 308 percent since 1992 according to figures released in a report by the UN. For the 2004-2005 year, more than 27,000 people visited the icy continent.
In coming years, tourists may be increasingly drawn to the remote landscape as it faces the looming threat of global warming which could significantly impact its glaciers, wildlife, and ice flows. In 2002, scientists found that parts of Antarctica had warmed 1.5°C, while earlier this year, researchers reported in the Arctic, sea ice has decreased by about 8%, or more than 380,000 square miles, over the past 30 years and the ocean could have ice-free summers within a century. The sea could Antarctica could face a similar fate.
The influx of visitors, coupled with an increasing interest in adventure activities, has raised the stakes of Antarctic tourism in recent years. Operators are now offering camping, climbing, kayaking and scuba-diving in addition to the usual cruise-related diversions.
These new activities are presenting new management challenges and raising concerns over safety.
A composite satellite photograph of Antarctica from space. Image courtesy of NASA.
“The practical management of high-risk (adventure) tourism and its potential impact on national programmes and tour operators in terms of search and rescue operations for unsupported adventure tourists is a growing concern,” says the United Nations Environment Programme in its “Question of Antarctica: Report of the Secretary-General.” The organization has expressed the need for more rigorous control of tourism activities, both for safety of participants and to protect the delicate Antarctic ecosystem.
Despite these concerns, it is likely that tourism in the world’s coldest place will flourish in coming years. The recent success of the documentary, “March of the Penguins,” could further bolster interest in the frozen continent. Getting beyond the penguins, the question on many a visitor’s mind, “What surprises does climate change have in store for Antarctica?”
Number of tourists visiting Antarctica
a Includes sailing vessels/yachts where the information was available.
b Does not include sailing vessels/yachts.
This chart of tourist arrivals in Antarctica is derived from data available in the “Question of Antarctica: Report of the Secretary-General” by the United Nations Environment Programme .