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Guide to understanding the harmful impact of tourism in Antarctica

impacts of tourism on Antarctica

No place in the earth can be compared with Antarctica, the last great wilderness of the planet. Tourism in this frozen continent is an unconventional experience. Its spectacular pristine icy landscape and the endless list of iconic fauna are attracting thousands of discerning travelers.

What would be the impacts of tourism on Antarctica?

Harmful impacts of tourism on Antarctica

Should tourism continue in this land? These are haunting the minds of environmentalists. As long as Antarctica remained beyond the reach of humans, there was nothing to be concerned of. But this is no more the scenario. The rising tourism activities and scientific exploration in this continent are posing serious threats to its sustainability.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) reports of 38,478 visitors traveling to Antarctica in 2015-16, a number up by 5% compared to the previous year. This is estimated to jump to 44,000 the next season with some 10,000 not to set foot on the unspoiled landmass.

Tourism regulation in Antarctica:

Tourism in Antarctica is self-regulated by IAATO established in 1991 with 122 members as of now. The organization enforces strict guidelines to its tour operators and ships limiting the size of the ships and the number of travelers that can land on Antarctica at a given time.

In terms of preservation of this pristine land, efforts by IAATO have been successful till date. But the rising concerns pertaining to tourist experience and preservation of the environment call for a cap on the number of visitors.

A few years back, Antarctic scientists issued a warning stating a surge in tourism in the frozen continent has been a growing threat to the environment. Given the effects of climate change on the extremely biodiverse and climatically vulnerable Antarctica, it is not easy to assess the impacts of tourism on Antarctica.

7 – Possible harmful impacts of tourism on Antarctica:

Passenger polar cruise vessels are increasingly taking voyages to the end of the world. While it seems tourism activities are only few compared to that in the rest of the world, it is here where humans are never at the best control of themselves. Therefore, intensifying human activities are bound to have a detrimental effect on the environment’s sustainability.

However, one can make a fair judgment of the harmful impacts of tourism on Antarctica. This would help to apprehend future problems and detect the probable solutions.

1.      The ‘high-impact’ time of tourists landing in the continent:


Compared to a scientist spending most of their time on a permanent or semi-permanent base, a few hours spent by the tourist create a much higher impact. Tourists are likely to explore the most beautiful and wildlife infested areas of the continent with small boats.

Therefore, most of the tourist landings concentrated over a small area roughly 1% of the total mass create a higher impact. Furthermore, cruise liners carry more tourists in a single voyage than those on expedition or research.

2.      Tourism season coinciding with the breeding season:

The harmful impacts of tourism on Antarctica can be felt as the tourism season coincides with the breeding season. This creates a high possibility of disturbing the local fauna. Antarctica is the home to 20 million breeding penguins. They may not get the right ambience for mating which in near future may threaten their existence on the planet.

3.      Higher chances of an oil spill from shipping activity:

The heightened shipping activity of tour ships during the touring season creates greater possibilities of accidents and oil-spills. There have been previous incidents of ships being grounded leading to oil spills. Even with the best safe-guards complying with the marine regulations for Antarctic ships, more the number of ships greater would be the number of accidents.

4.      Smaller expeditions creating bigger threats to the environment:

Smaller expeditions led by individuals and small parties are increasing day by day. The continent needs to set up foolproof rescue procedures if anybody experiences any difficulty. Small parties generally fail to maintain their safety standards and seek humanitarian requests in case of any disaster. Moreover, there is no surety regarding removing the derelicts and crashed vehicles to keep the land clean.

5.      Accidentally depositing invasive species on the pristine land:

Accidentally depositing invasive species

Another harmful impact of tourism on Antarctica is the accidental introduction of foreign invasive species like insects or seeds through clothes and boots on this unspoiled land.  A high level of awareness exists where passengers are advised to vacuum their clothing and sterilize boots and waterproof jackets. Still, an accidental miss can endanger the environment.

6.      Enhanced land erosion:

A lot of feet movement on the same place of this ice-covered land will create paths and other scars. And this is happening. Only responsible tourism allowing a restricted number of travelers can check this erosion.

7.      Other impacts of human invasion:

These may include:

  • Over harvesting of some species on the verge of extinction
  • Contaminating the land with soiled boots, clothing and left over trash.
  • Discharging waste and sewage in the ocean waters.

To what extent Antarctica has been affected by tourism?

According to an IAATO official, there has been no discernible harmful impact of tourism on Antarctica for last 50 years. For example, researchers from various scientific organizations regularly visit the penguin colonies. These creatures are never touched but a close encounter happens.

Studies related to frequently visited colonies have brought inconclusive results with some doing worse, same or even better! Researchers say that global warming is changing the penguins’ fortune more than tourism activities.

Apart from tourism, there is detectable environmental pollution from scientific research but confirming data is yet to be collected to ascertain which activity, tourism or scientific exploration, is causing more harm.

Should tourism continue in Antarctica?


Responsible tourism is beneficial for this land. Not all can afford a trip to Antarctica but a selected few from the affluent and well-educated class well above the average tourists. They tend to be good influencers and can be the brand ambassadors of Antarctica. They can lend their strong voice on behalf of this continent if there are some undesirable efforts of mineral and resource extraction.

The continent is sitting on a huge oil reserve estimated to be between 50 billion and 203 billion barrels (more than the collective reserve of Kuwait and Abu Dhabi) and natural gas reserve of about 106 trillion cubic feet. It is urgent to monitor the growth and diversification of tourism in Antarctica.

The member nations of the treaty need to be more proactive and come to a consensus in creating a comprehensive and long-term vision. The member nations providing a continent wise view of human impacts may help in mitigating the problems and devise new solutions to protect this land from environmental threats.

Tips to make your Antarctica trip a memorable one

If you can be responsible to avoid the harmful effects of tourism, Antarctica surely can be a destination of your choice. It may not be the most hospitable of locations, but it does offer an adventure of a lifetime and a pristine environment and habitats that would be lovely for even the most discernible traveler. This enchanting continent that every traveler. There are cruises that assure a splendid Antarctica time, and here are some things that you must experience when in Antarctica.

Marvel at your paradise

You have reached the world’s finest heaven, and the first thing that you must do is worship this snowy wonderland. Marvel the beauty of winter that this land shows and projects. You won’t find winter as enchanting anywhere in the world as it is here. Summers in Antarctica are from December to March, and the bright skies with the wonderfully wintry temperature can make you go crazy. Witness the summer skies at Paradise bay and marvel the enchanting and everlasting beauty of Antarctica here. 

Run the Half Marathon

The full or half Antarctica Marathon is run along the King George Island. If you are in Antarctica around this time, you should ideally participate in this run. This run and the medal, if you win one, would definitely commemorate the journey of Antarctica. Don’t miss out on this run for anything in the world!

Licking the Iceberg

Turists viewing iceberg, Antarctica

Those huge beasts known as icebergs are souls to this region. If you are in Antarctica, you should reach out to them and get a chance to see them closer. Add licking the iceberg to your bucket list, but remember to be careful, you don’t want your tongue stuck to the iceberg either.

Dance with the penguins

Paradise Bay is the ideal place to find Penguins and other wildlife that has its presence in Antarctica. If you are a nature lover, don’t miss out on the opportunity of holding penguins or dancing around with them. You will see how merrily they live amidst the natural snow, and keep dancing to the happy tunes of winter. You may also get to see leopards and weddle seals around this place if you keep your eyes open. They are not really friendly, so don’t approach them as you would a penguin.

Helicopter Ride

If you are a true travel freak, celebrate your mission Antarctica with the helicopter ride to take in the scenes and experiences that might be unavailable for one traveling on land. An exquisite aerial view of Antarctica feels extremely good with this ride. You will get a complete view of the area and get to know it better. You would even know where what is when you are on that helicopter.

Observation Hill

Mt Erebus, Antarctica

If you love breathtaking views, and are ready to trek a bit, then you should go to the observation hill near McMurdo Station. The view that you see from this hill is incredible. You get a splendid view, nothing like before, of the Mt. Erebus and Rose Ice Shelf. You should ideally visit this place for the amazing views.

Trip Down South Pole

If you don’t do this when in Antarctica, you are surely missing out on something. Mark 900S and 00W along the island, and is one of the best points of travel in this land. Take a helicopter to reach there, and feel the thrill of standing at the bottom of the planet.

Deception Island Hot Spring

A dip in this hot spring of Deception Island is a must for everyone who takes their trip down Antarctica. This place has warm volcanic soil and a steaming hot pool. It is quite a treat in the freezing polar cold of the Antarctic.

Make your Antarctica trip an ultimate experience with these travel tips

Antarctica is a traveler’s flight of fancy. It is a desire that a genuine wanderlust would nurture all his life until he sets foot on this mystic land of perennial ice and penguins and of course, the bone-chilling cold.

Basic questions relating to the right time to visit, what type of warm clothing and gear to be taken, what activities to be done and how to reach this fabled land need to be answered. Tourists to Antarctica should officially be at least six years of age and above. For adventures like sea kayaking, one should be at least 18 years and above.

Here we go with some key areas that would help you launch a trip to Antarctica:

How to get there?

You can travel to Antarctica either by sea or by flight. If you are vulnerable to seasickness or don’t have enough time to spare for lengthy sea cruises, flight should be the obvious choice.

Best time to visit:

Summer is certainly the best time to visit because the bite of chill would be milder. The breeding season for Adelie, Chinstrap, Gentoo and Emperor Penguins would be from November to March and chicks hatch in January.

If you travel to Antarctica this time, you can see colonies and nesting beds of these birds come alive with myriad cacophonies. February and March would be suitable for spotting the Leviathan Blue Whales, Orca, Southern Right Whales and humpback whales.

Get Physical:

This is no place for a smooth trip that everything would fall into place. You may not experience the desired smooth cruise to this extreme southern tip of the world. Often you land on rocky beaches to which your fancy boats are vulnerable to damage. Trekking routes at Deception Island, Neko Harbour and Damoy point are quite treacherous. You need to be physically fit and sturdy to make the expedition. If you are not, yogic sessions and Pilate classes may enhance your physical potential and pluck.

Diet plan:

The ship’s internal air-conditioning, long flight and a shift in the pattern of diet could disrupt the normal bowel movement. It will be wise to take regular fiber supplements from the starting point you have launched on this Antarctica expedition.

Avoid frostbite:

This is a typical issue in ice-covered lands. The ice literally eats through your skin giving dreadful skin ailments. Carry necessary gears like waterproof insulated pants, a pair of big boots, gloves, beanies and neck gaiters to give you the required protection.

Don’t miss out on any trip schedule:

If you are hesitant to decide on embarking on Antarctica waiting for a better opportunity, the time may never come. Avail the first opportunity since the weather is unpredictable. There may be the least possibility of a repeat itinerary matching your favored time.

Be hygienic while consuming buffet lunch and dinner:

If you are not cautious enough in the way you eat your food over a buffet arrangement, you may get sick. Use a hand sanitizer. Eat your food maintaining the best possible hygiene. Hundreds of co-passengers on board eating with you might not have clean habits. Transmission of diseases through community eating is possible.

Do not miss the fabulous wildlife:

You experience an ocean full of wildlife around you. The ambiance is amazing. The surroundings come alive with their calls and activities. Pods of Orca ( killer whale) looking for a kill, young crabeater seals, hum back whales gliding around in a feeding frenzy and chinstrap penguins with their hilarious gaits make the super cold environment vibrant and full of noise. This is a strange place with weird animal life that you have never ever seen anywhere in the world. It is a fantastic experience, lively and thrilling!

Dress for the weather:

As you close in towards your dream destination, temperature falls rapidly and soon you will feel the subzero bone chill. Heavy winter clothing is a strong recommendation but do not overdo it, because sweat trapped under your clothing can give you a chill too!

Check the camping facilities:

Several tourism companies are offering camping opportunities to tourists in Antarctica. Wrap yourself with your sleeping bag and bivvy bag inside the camp and have a splendid time right on the snow-covered Antarctic soil. Hats and dry thermals would keep you warm and cozy while you sleep through the coldest nights ever in the planet.

Prepare for the swell:

The Drake Passage cutting off Chile and Argentina’s Terra Del Fuego from Antarctic Peninsula would give you motion sickness. To avoid nausea and a strong urge to retch all through the passage, it is advised you carry the required medication.

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