International Regulation of Tourism in Antarctica Term Paper

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International Regulation of Tourism in Antarctica

Since the mid-1980s, Antarctica has been an increasingly popular tourist destination, despite the relative danger of visiting the largest, least explored -- and arguably least understood -- continent on earth. Beginning with the 1959 treaty establishing Antarctica as an international zone free of claims of sovereignty by nation's that had been instrumental in establishing research stations there, there has been almost constant negotiation about how to administer regulations pertaining to the preservation of life forms on the continent, what those regulations should be, and what sanctions should be applied and by whom.

To understand the depths of the negotiations, and the potential for discord, it is necessary to understand what the continent offer the 65% of global nations that are party to the 1959 and all subsequent treaties. To understand the possible future of Antarctica, it is necessary to outline treaty attempts to minimize commercial interests based on extraction of natural resources and on fishing, while not really providing much incentive for tourism, either, except if that tourism is subordinate to environmental interests as defined by treaty.

This paper exposes all the current situations obtaining in Antarctica regarding mineral extraction, fishing, environmental concerns and the increasingly important addition of tourism, and it assesses and makes recommendations regarding the best ways to regulate international tourism to minimize its effect on the fragile Antarctic environment at present.

I: Introduction and Statement of the Problem

What is it about Antarctica that beckons tourists?

Landscapes of the moon, substrates of the tropics

Looking up as well as down

Fishy business

Trendy real estate

Tourism from terrifying beginnings

Problems for tourists

From homesteading to tourism: Current conditions

Tourism's current situation

II. Review of the Literature and Research Questions

Environmental impact: Abuses

Regulatory framework

Positions of various signatories and interested nations


South Africa



The United States

New Zealand


Academic studies

III. Methodology

IV. Discussion


APPENDIX A: The Antarctic Treaty

APPENDIX B: Madrid Protocol

APPENDIX C: Companies conducting Antarctica tourism excursions

APPENDIX D: Guidance for those Organising and Conducting Tourism and Non-governmental Activities in the Antarctic

APPENDIX E: The Lake Vostok Issue

Table I:1 Antarctic Fish Catch (1000 ton/year)

Chapter I: Introduction and Statement of the Problem

People with enough money have paid enormous sums to go into space in Russian missiles. While that may seem excessive, adventure tourism has been part of the human psyche since before the Mediterranean people rowed around that small ocean creating semi-mythical adventures to entertain and enlighten. In the past three decades at least, adventure vacations from whitewater rafting to rock-climbing to visits to anaconda-patrolled equatorial rainforests have been popular with everyone from young men with a lot of 'attitude' and muscles to older women who want to experience the wonders of the globe and have the time and money to do whatever they please. Even without the other blandishments offered by the 'ice planet,' Antarctica would have enormous tourist appeal. However, as it happens, there are many other reasons tourists would bother about Antarctica, which in turn means there are ample reasons for nations interested in the tourist dollar to bother about it.

While it is human nature to be adventurous, it is also human nature to be competitive. When more than one person, or in this case more than one nation, has an interest in an undeveloped land, there are bound to be problems. This could certainly be true of one of the last unspoiled landscapes on the globe, especially as it offers not only tourism but also commercial and scientific advantages to those who might be able to exploit it unhindered.

In one of the few cases, arguably, of pre-emptive international cooperation, Antarctica has been the subject of two pieces of international legislation aimed at keeping the frozen landscapes welcoming to virtually all inhabitants of the planet, under certain strict usage conditions. These two pieces of earth-shaking legislation are the Antarctica Treaty of 1959, created in 1991, but a decade in the signatory process, with holdouts including the United States, which didn't ratify it until 2001.

The Antarctic Treaty, with its main purpose being to establish a system of international administration in order to avoid the risk of conflicts arising from competing territorial claims on that continent, was adopted at Washington, D.C., on December 1, 1959. It came into force on June 23, 1961. As of May 1, 1989, there were 38 parties to the treaty (later rising to 43), and 24 'consultative' parties. Early additions to the consultative ranks were Finland, Peru and South Korea.

There are five separate agreements that were negotiated under the auspices of the 1959 treaty. They are: Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora (1964); Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (1972); Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (1980); Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities (1988); and Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (1991). Collectively they are known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS).)

Regulating commercial and scientific use of the continent is paramount, both to assure continuing bounty and discovery based on its resources. It is also paramount, however, to assure that tourism to Antarctica is something more than a commercially lucrative way to alter the landscape of the region or, worse, to interfere with its essential contribution to the climate of the globe, which has already occurred to some degree; it has been decades since scientists first noticed the thinning of the ozone layer above Antarctica; it is only more recently that they have proposed to understand its importance not only in controlling the radiation that reaches Earth, but in producing climates in which humans and the existing animal and plant species can continue to live in health and safety.

That the ozone layer problems are serious is evident from the magnitude of the problem. As long ago as 1991, scientists reported that the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica had grown to 13 million square kilometers.

Unless all of these things are accomplished, tourism -- like every other purpose for visiting Antarctica -- will be damaged irreparably. So, although each of those areas of concern is valuable in its own right, it will be assessed also as an integral interlocking component of Antarctica tourism.

What is it about Antarctica that beckons tourists?

What facets of Antarctica are so attractive to tourists that they would spend the still relatively substantial sums needed to secure a place on even the shortest of Antarctic visits?

For one thing, there are the contrasts. Although it is known for its world-spanning sheets of ice, it is also home to an active volcano, Mount Erebus. The volcano thrusts nearly two and a half miles above the Ross Sea off the cost of East Antarctica. It is visited by scientists from volcanologists to geophysicists, and is known for its unpredictable and frightening activities, one of which is tossing sofa-sized lava bombs out above the crater rim. The advice to those standing at the crater's rim for a look is not to run, but rather to stand and watch if the lava bombs start to fly, dodging them when their trajectory can be surmised.

The lava bombs are not the only danger to be found at Mt. Erebus. Volcanologists have christened the crater Nausea Knob because of the "sharp stink of hydrogen sulfide, hydrochloric acid, and sulfur dioxide, [which,] along with high altitude, makes climbing here queasy work." The crater is described as a smoky chasm 2,000 feet across and more than 700 feet deep. From it, jets of steam and acrid vapor hiss, staining the cliff a greenish yellow. The bottom of the pit is a pool of lava, with its glowing coals concealed by a think crust that can break into a "lurid orange bloom" at any moment. The entire time, the mountain rumbles "like the deepest bass on a giant pipe organ."

It is one of the few permanent lava lakes remaining on the Earth's surface, and scientists use it as a sort of living window on the interior of the Earth; tourists, naturally, are attracted by the otherworldly quality of it. Turning one's back on the crater, however, gives another impression entirely: Mount Melbourne, 200 miles away, appears silent in the shimmery air, and the loneliness of man and mountains can be profound.

Antarctica was first explored when men still sailed in wooden boats. Explorer Ernest Shackleton found the worlds' highest, driest and coldest continent to be irresistible and romantic, writing to a friend in 1917, "In spite of this dusty workaday life I have ideals, and far away in my own White South I open my arms to the romance of it all and it abides with me now."

Needless to say, at the time, Antarctica was ripe for all kinds of discoveries and all sorts of adventures. It still is. "As recently as 1996 satellite data revealed a huge lake -- the existence of which was suspected…[continue]

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