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Media Release
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Murray

24 March 2004

Protecting Antarctica from the tourist invasion

Australia is leading the push to ensure that the rapidly increasing tourism in Antarctica does not become an environmental threat or put others' lives at risk when adventurers set off ill-prepared.

At a special Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting of Experts in Norway this week, the Australian delegation led by the Australian Antarctic Division will present Australia's vision for an Antarctic tourism policy.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment and Heritage Dr Sharman Stone said Australia had long been concerned about the potential environmental impacts of unregulated tourism and the safety and self-sufficiency of adventure tourism, and cruising in Antarctica.

“Over the past decade tourist visits to Antarctica have doubled and tourist vessels operating in Antarctica have increased from 12 to 47,” Dr Stone said.

“There is every indication that this interest in Antarctica will continue to grow. We must make sure we do not destroy the world's last great wilderness.”

At the Norway meeting, Australia will argue for the following to be put in place:

Dr Stone said that one area of concern was the potential for an oil spill or loss of life if cruise ship hulls were not ice-strengthened.

According to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), the number of ship-based tourists visiting Antarctica has grown from 6,704 in 1992-93 to 13,263 in 2002-03. IAATO has estimated the number of ship-based tourists landing in Antarctica was over 20,000, last season.

While the Antarctic continent is as large as Australia, tourism is concentrated in small areas, for example on the Antarctic Peninsula close to South America.

Dr Stone said if current rates of tourism growth were to continue, current mechanisms for managing Antarctic tourism would become increasingly inadequate.

“In recent years the number of small, under-prepared private ‘adventure' expeditions have also increased,” Dr Stone said.

“It is not fair to simply take off and hope for the best and rely on others to come to provide assistance if things go awry. The cost involved in rescues in this hostile environment has a major impact on national scientific programs and can put at risk the lives of the people involved in search and rescue attempts.

“Venturing south should not be undertaken lightly. Self-sufficiency and careful planning, including fall-back contingencies, are essential in this, the most hostile and unpredictable environment on Earth.”

The concentration of tourist activities on the Antarctic Peninsula may be some distance from the 42% of Antarctic territory claimed by Australia, but this has not stopped Australian nationals flocking to work there on cruise ships and in adventure tourism, or simply to visit as tourists.

Currently Australian nationals and Australian registered companies intending to conduct tourism operations in Antarctica are required to notify the Australian Antarctic Division and undertake an environmental impact assessment. Depending on the activity, they may also then be required to have adequate insurance and contingency plans for search and rescue.

Dr Stone said that it was imperative that proper tourism measures were implemented to protect the rare beauty of Antarctica.

“A footprint left on some lichen will still be visible in 10 years' time. We need to be proactive now, to preserve the future of this remarkable land.”

Commonwealth of Australia