US wants limits on Antarctic tourism

April 5, 2009 By MATTHEW LEE , Associated Press Writer
In this February 2009 file photo, the Antarctic landscape is seen near the Troll Research Station, Antarctica. The Obama administration is pushing to protect Antarctica's fragile environment by imposing mandatory limits on the size of cruise ships sailing there and the number of passengers they bring ashore. (AP Photo/Charles Hanley, File)

(AP) -- The Obama administration is pushing to protect Antarctica's fragile environment by imposing mandatory limits on the size of cruise ships sailing there and the number of passengers they bring ashore.

At a conference set to begin Monday in Baltimore, U.S. diplomats will propose amending the 50-year-old Antarctic Treaty. The move would seek to mandate, under international law, the current voluntary restrictions on tourism.

A U.S. document provided to The Associated Press by the State Department says the plan would "minimize the likelihood of marine oil spills" in the Antarctic and "ensure that tourism is conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to kick off the conference in Washington on Monday by hosting the first joint meeting of Antarctic Treaty signatories and the Arctic Council, which covers the northern polar region. More than 400 officials and observers are expected to attend from the Baltimore meeting, which runs to April 17.

The Baltimore meeting will mark the 50th anniversary of the pact's signing. Many consider it the first modern international arms control treaty because it says Antarctica cannot be used for military purposes and freezes sovereignty claims on its territory.

The treaty says Antarctica can be used only for peaceful purposes and guarantees freedom for scientific investigations. It sets out guidelines under which the continent can be protected. There are 28 member states and 19 observer countries and organizations to the accord.

The new U.S. proposal contains no specific enforcement mechanism or penalties for limiting tourist operations. But it would require signatories to the pact to ensure that Antarctic tour operators bar ships with more than 500 passengers from landing sites, restrict landings to one vessel at a time per site and limit passengers on shore to 100 at a time.

It would mandate a minimum of one guide for every 20 tourists while ashore, according to the documents.

Limiting tourist access to the continent has taken on urgency because of a surge in visits and recent cruise ship accidents, including two groundings in the just-finished 2008-09 season and the highly publicized sinking of a vessel in November 2007.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators says visits have risen from 6,700 in the 1992-93 season to 29,500 in the 2006-07 season and 45,213 in 2008-09.

Members of the association first developed the restrictions and adhere to them voluntarily. Members are backing the U.S. proposal for the mandatory limits, which were first adopted by the Antarctic Treaty parties as recommendations in 2007.

"We follow them religiously," said the group's executive director Steve Wellmeier. He acknowledged that without mandated limits, enforcement is "an honor system to a large extent."


On the Net:

Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty:

Treaty background:

International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators:

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Treaty: last chance to save great apes

Related Stories

Treaty: last chance to save great apes

September 12, 2005

A treaty signed during the weekend in the Democratic Republic of Congo reportedly might be the world's last chance to save great apes from extinction.

Chinese Scientists Embark on Big Field Trip to Antarctica

November 12, 2007

The largest ever Chinese expedition to the Antarctic left today from Shanghai's Waigaoqiao Dock. The explorer ship Snow Dragon with 188 scientist aboard and more being air lifted to Antarctic will explore the Arctic shelf ...

Observing sustainable tourism in Antarctica

February 22, 2008

“Antarctica is the ultimate destination for anyone interested in natural history but it also challenges those people who visit to think broadly about our responsibilities to all life on Earth.” That’s the view of Dr ...

Recommended for you

Amazon deforestation leaps 16 percent in 2015

November 28, 2015

Illegal logging and clearing of Brazil's Amazon rainforest increased 16 percent in the last year, the government said, in a setback to the aim of stopping destruction of the world's greatest forest by 2030.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3.1 / 5 (10) Apr 05, 2009
its funny how we want to protect a place that is so hostile and unforgiving and not interested in protecting us. im sure antarctica was more than happy when the last age killed many hoposapiens and it will be happier still when the next one comes for us. ........i say melt it!
2.6 / 5 (8) Apr 05, 2009
3.5 / 5 (8) Apr 05, 2009
Is this a joke? Who is going there now? Is there demand? Go ashore? Hmm... luxury hotels?
I think this one got way to far up the wish list!
4 / 5 (6) Apr 05, 2009
There goes my vacation of penguin hunting, snowball fights, sub-zero scuba diving, and walrus races.
3 / 5 (6) Apr 06, 2009
Slip of the tongue... He said "protect Antarctica's fragile environment" and he meant "protect Antarctica's frozen environment"
2.6 / 5 (5) Apr 08, 2009
Gods-damned Democrats! Mind your own business and stay out of our lives!
3.4 / 5 (5) Apr 08, 2009
IF... IF they must protect something, why not the Arctic. It seems odd to me that the government is worried that the sea ice in the Arctic is being blown into the North Atlantic where it quickly melts, however they are not concerned that more and more nuclear-powered icebreakers are booking cruises to the North Pole so that environmentalists can watch the sea ice shattering under the bow.
Hey everybody get on the icebreaker so we can witness the Arctic before we speed the summer melt with our... uhhhh, icebreaker... Is this just crazy or what?

not rated yet Apr 17, 2009

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.