Some good news is coming out of Antarctica this week, as the countries who manage the region are currently in meetings to discuss new controls over the fleets of passenger ships that have been swarming its icy waters. Tourism to the Antarctic has jumped from 10,000 visitors a decade ago to over 45,000 this past year, the AP reports, and with that comes increased concern about environmental impact to the already precarious region.
While the current rules state that visitors cannot leave any garbage or human waste behind in the waters, there have been few regulations on the types of vessels allowed to travel to Antarctica, and what kind of fuel they can use. This is of particular concern because there have been several incidents in the past few years, including the sinking of the Explorersinking of the Explorer, in which ships have either run aground or have not been strong enough to withstand an impact with an iceberg. According to the AP, these cases were a wake-up call for Trevor Hughes, the head of Antarctic policy at New Zealand’s foreign ministry, and experts from the Antarctic Treaty are looking to establish a new code. Hughes told the AP:
“Without regulations, we are going to have a disaster where a lot of lives are lost and where oil spills out into the environment, and we see penguins being smothered and poisoned by fuel oil in their rookeries,” he said.
Increased oversight can only mean good things for the region, says our colleague Jonathan Tourtellot, who runs National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations. “One of the concerns has been about unsuitably large cruise ships visiting the Antarctic,” he said. “My hope is that this will be a constructive move.”
Photo: National Geographic My Shot user Tatyana Yegorova
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