Antarctic Tourism: an Essay on Contrasts between Environmental Impact, Current Regulations and Opportunities to Generate Environmental Awareness

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Although Antarctica is commonly considered a pristine environment it is a part of the world that has been visited for more than 200 years for exploration, exploitation of renewable resources, militarization, science and more recently tourism. The flow of tourists has increased significantly since its inception, reaching current values that exceed 45,000 tourists annually, featuring a marked seasonality and a high spatial density. This spatial-temporal concentration has required, from IAATO and in line with current regulations within the Antarctic Treaty System, a proactive agenda with the progressive development of operational regulations. A factor that cannot be ignored is that tourism, associated with current climate processes and their effect on the biodiversity and their habitats, can exacerbate the impact of tourism activity. Other aspect, although not necessarily circumscribed to it, is the potential for introducing non- native species into the environment, incorporated into the agenda of the Antarctic Treaty System and taken proactively by industry through the design of protocols that require the implementation of strict biosecurity measures. In contrast to the potential or actual negative effects on the Antarctic environment, it is worth highlighting the value of the educational programs implemented on board as a tool to transfer conservation values over Antarctica. The challenge for multilateral organizations is to achieve a broad understanding of the tourism activity, and to develop and refine regulations that prevent impacts that exceed the resilience capacity of the environment and its fauna. For IAATO the challenge will be to ensure that its members continue developing activities within a framework of growing and more sophisticated regulations aimed at further improving the performance of operations on land and at-sea, to minimize the impact of tourism over the Antarctic environment.

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