Showing posts with label Tourism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tourism. Show all posts

Monday, November 15, 2010

Guest Post!

Over at ASOC headquarters, our fall intern Rachel Belkin has been writing up a storm, developing new content for the ASOC website (coming soon!). But she graciously took the time to share an experience that many people even within ASOC have yet to experience - a visit to Antarctica. Her experience helped solidify a lifelong desire to work to protect the environment.

Antarctica through the eyes of a preteen

By Rachel Belkin

Most kids asked for big parties and lavish gifts for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah - I however was begging my parents for a trip to Antarctica. I was a 12-year-old science nerd with a love of penguins and whales and my biggest goals were not to mess up my torah reading and to somehow make it to the ultimate whale and penguin paradise, Antarctica. My parents, who raised my sister and me with the intention of having us be travelers, easily gave in and the year following my Bat Mitzvah we were on our way. It has been almost 7 years since that two-week trip but I am still feeling the effects that a trip to Antarctica leaves on people, a desire to conserve and protect the icy continent.

The type of experiences I had while traveling to Antarctic on a Russian icebreaker range from life changing to hilarious situations. On the boat there were several other kids around my age. This was extra exciting due to the fact that I found other kids who preferred to go whale watching to going to the mall. We formed a tight group and like all preteen friendships we were all instantly the best of friends. Together we passed the time while cruising through the Drake Passage hanging out with the captain, exploring the ship and learning some Russian from the crew. After we actually got to Antarctica we did everything together and took advantage of everything offered to us.

During those two weeks, we visited research stations, penguin colonies, traveled past icebergs and icepacks crowded with leopard seals and penguins, I rode on a zodiac next to a minke whale, visited the only Antarctic post office and even did the ultimate polar bear plunge on New Year’s day. I made great friendships, learned a thing or two about Antarctica and had legitimately the experience of a lifetime.

As I mentioned before, my trip to Antarctica left a lasting impression on me. Since then I have continued to travel and take advantage of every opportunity given to me. I am majoring in Environmental Science and Policy mainly to conserve the places that I have seen while traveling. I know exactly what is at risk if we don’t work towards protecting fragile ecosystems like Antarctica and that is not a risk anyone or I should be willing to take.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Unparalleled - it doesn't mean what you think it means

The growing tourist industry in the Antarctic has been cause for concern for ASOC for some time. As an environmental organization, we naturally focus on the environmental impacts of tourism, particularly those from ships. And as a result, we're aware of all the accidents that happen down there. So when one of our campaigners saw this article, he was quick to note that the ship mentioned, the Ocean Nova, has a little bit of a history to it. While the article notes cheerfully that "The vessel has navigated Antarctic waters with unparalleled success, including the challenging Weddell Sea," I'd have to quibble with their definition of "unparalleled." The Ocean Nova ran aground in Antarctica about a year ago. Pretty low bar for unparalleled, unless Quark Expeditions is referring to the fact that the Ocean Nova was the only ship to run aground in Antarctica in 2009. No injuries occurred, but the incident reminded us that longtime tour operators aren't immune from accidents.

Though the ship is built for the ice, unlike some of the larger cruise ships that have been heading to Antarctica in recent years, accidents do happen. Even the more experienced companies don't have a perfect track record. So when you see these nice little press release-type articles touting the wonders of the latest Antarctic tour package, remember that no matter how safe, Antarctic travel always comes with extra risk.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Protecting the Environment is Such a Downer

A ban on heavy fuel oil in the Antarctic will essentially end tourism in the region, according to a press release from Crystal Cruises. The press release claims that "a proposed ban on the carriage of certain fuel oils on board will effectively prohibit the sailing of most passenger vessels in the Antarctic," but provides no actual evidence to support this claim. As we noted before, the ban would probably impact large ships the most, because their fuel costs are higher. Operators might choose to cancel Antarctic routes rather than raise prices to cover the higher fuel costs, but that's hardly the same as prohibiting the sailing of vessels. The release goes on to highlight the final Antarctic tour that Crystal Cruises plans to make over the Christmas holidays in 2009-2010. It certainly sounds wonderful - and explains why Crystal Cruises might not be able to afford increased fuel costs. To enhance its guests' holiday experience, the ship "will boast more than $100,000 of exquisite seasonal decor. Handcrafted ornaments, elaborately decorated trees and larger-than-life toy soldiers are among the ship's holiday furnishings." These decorations will be accompanied by "[e]xtravagant holiday dinners, parties and entertainment." I bet all those ornaments and all that food weighs an awful lot! Cruise costs start at about $9,000 per person.

By this point, you are no doubt weeping at the injustice that will be done to the world if the International Maritime Organization (IMO) succeeds in formalizing the heavy fuel oil ban, thereby forcing Crystal Cruises to end this delightful trip. Am I really supposed to care that rich people won't be able to enjoy giant toy soldiers with icebergs as a backdrop? After all, it is somewhat reassuring that for once the needs of nature are put before the needs of people trying to make money the easy way. Especially as the toothfish fishery expands in the Ross Sea, I find it remarkably progressive of the IMO to proceed with the ban. The similarities are thus: both Antarctic trips and toothfish are products that are aimed at the relatively well off - even more downscale tours are quite expensive, and toothfish sell for $20 per pound - yet efforts to protect either the Antarctic environment or Antarctic fauna are presented as unfair infringements on freedom by hysterical environmentalists. Now if Antarctica were the only environment in which people could recover from a certain disease, or if toothfish were feeding the world's poor, there might be a legitimate debate here.

But that is certainly not the case. Many of us would love to visit Antarctica, and many of us (even in the ocean conservation community) enjoy seafood, yet neither toothfish fillets nor cruises are required for human life. Most of the time, despite what businesses may argue, environmental protections ultimately benefit humans just as much as they benefit the environment. Humans need healthy oceans with healthy ocean ecosystems more than we need luxury goods. Good for the IMO for doing the right thing, and shame on Crystal Cruises for pretending that the ban is anything other than a move to protect the environment.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Will High Fuel Costs Tamp Down Antarctic Tourism?

Moves to tighten restrictions on the type of fuel oil used by ships traveling through the Antarctic might have a chilling effect (apologies, couldn't resist) on the industry. According to a UK newspaper, some cruise lines would cancel their Antarctic tours if stricter IMO rules take effect. Currently, ships are not allowed to use so-called heavy fuel in the Antarctic (defined as south of 60 degrees latitude), but can carry it on board and use it when outside of the designated area. Marine gas oil is used within the area. This new rule, which would fall under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) and would enter into force in 2011, will raise fuel costs for tour operators. It appears that larger vessels, those carrying more than 500 passengers, will be the ones most likely to cut out Antarctic cruises due to the higher costs of marine gas oil. A major reason for the ban is that an oil spill of heavy fuel oil would be much more hazardous to the environment than one of marine gas oil.

The sinking of the fairly small cruise ship the Explorer in 2007 made the international community all too aware of the possibility of fuel spills in the aftermath of shipping accidents. A similar incident involving one of the larger cruise vessels would be disastrous if onboard fuel were to leak into surrounding waters. Environmental concerns aside, the chances of rescuing passengers from a ship carrying more than 500 people in the Antarctic are not very good. The weather is too unpredictable and the areas too far from places with rescue capabilities. Overall, having fewer large ships in the Antarctic is probably safer for the environment and for people. Let's hope the rules do indeed take effect.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Zealand Calls for Greater Tourism Regulation

Following on the recent incident with the Ocean Nova, the Foreign Minister of New Zealand, Murray McCully, called for greater regulation of Antarctic shipping before a disaster occurs. He noted that the industry is growing rapidly but is not well-regulated, which could lead to accidents that harm both the environment and human life. Minister McCully also warned the cruise industry to keep in mind that the Southern Ocean is dangerous and difficult to reach in an emergency situation.

New Zealand's proactive position on Antarctic shipping is highly welcome. Currently, only the states who are party to the Antarctic Treaty have any authority to regulate tourism, but the Antarctic Treaty System does not have a comprehensive tourism policy. New Zealand is one of the 47 countries that have signed the Antarctic Treaty. At this year's Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, the United Kingdom will submit a paper that is a first step towards developing a more unified policy on tourism. Hopefully other treaty parties will heed New Zealand's warning that only stronger regulatory action can prevent a human and environmental tragedy.

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Zealand Tries to Avoid a Rescue Bill

Tourism in Antarctica isn't like tourism in other extreme environments - in some ways, it's much more dangerous. Take any indicator - temperature, ocean conditions, accessibility - and Antarctica in a sense wins because it is colder, icier, and more difficult to get to than anywhere else. So it makes sense that New Zealand would try to block an adventurous rower from his plans to row around Antarctica by himself. Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), the branch of government responsible for marine safety, would be responsible for rescuing the rower, Oliver Hicks, in case of an accident. MNZ believes that an accident is almost inevitable because of the harsh conditions on the Southern Ocean. Hicks will be using a boat that is powered by rowing but has cabins in which he can sleep, prepare food, and store supplies. The boat is also allegedly designed to withstand Southern Ocean conditions.

MNZ has great reason to be skeptical of Hicks' plans, however. Previous attempts have resulted in accidents requiring rescue, and in one case an adventurer drowned. Rescue missions are costly and put rescuers themselves in danger. Hicks' journey would take him 500 days and would cover 24,000 square kilometers, or just under 15,000 miles. He plans to halt for a few months during the brutal Antarctic winter on the island of South Georgia.

Hicks' response to New Zealand's refusal to let him set out on his journey was to travel to Australia. Australian officials are hardly excited about the project, but unlike their New Zealand counterparts cannot stop him from leaving. If he needs rescuing, MNZ will still be on the hook. Hicks has already accomplished some impressive feats of solo rowing - he is the only person to have rowed from America to the United Kingdom alone - and feels confident that he is capable of completing his mission and staying safe.

This incident underscores the need for special tourism policies for Antarctica. The human desire to undertake difficult and dangerous adventures is admirable, but is disregarding the wishes of those who would have to rescue you also admirable? It's not as if MNZ could just ignore Hicks in the event of an accident, even if he wanted them to do so. It seems a shame that governments are hamstrung in this way. While this type of tourism doesn't represent the kind of environmental threat that we at ASOC are most concerned about, it does point to the overall lack of regulation for Antarctic tourism that would protect both people and the environment. Laws and rules no doubt deaden the souls of expeditioners, but they keep people safe and prevent unnecessary crises.

Friday, December 5, 2008

MV Ushuaia Runs Aground

The MV Ushuaia, a tourist cruise ship, ran aground in Cape Anna, Antarctica on December 4. Fortunately, all the passengers are safe and are on their way home. It also appears that a small fuel spill has also been contained and won't harm nearby penguin and blue-eyed shags. But we don't really have any clear information on how much fuel has been spilled and what plans are in place to prevent more fuel from leaking.

The main problem, as ASOC sees it, is that tourism continues to grow in Antarctica with little oversight by the Antarctic Treaty Parties. The MV Ushuaia had an experienced crew and a ship in good condition, as well as favorable weather conditions. But as tourism expands, new companies lacking in experience will no doubt enter the industry. Tour operators are also trying to bring ships with thousands of passengers (many cruises now are in the hundreds, the Ushuaia had under 200 passengers) into the Antarctic. These ships carry heavy fuel oil that could be extremely harmful to marine life. More people, bigger ships, and less experience could create very serious problems in the event of an accident.

The treacherous Antarctic environment requires extreme caution from travelers. Now is the time for the Antarctic Treaty system and the International Maritime Organization to develop and enforce regulations that will protect humans and the environment.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Antarctic Tours for the Highest Bidder

Antarctic tourism has been growing exponentially, bringing with it a host of concerns about the environmental and safety problems associated with large numbers of visitors. Researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands recently proposed an interesting solution: cap the number of tourist days and auction off the rights to those days to tourism operators. This system is similar to the cap-and-trade measures proposed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but unlike that system, a tourism auction system raises serious questions about fairness. Travel to the Antarctic continent is already expensive, and this system could drive prices higher. Since Antarctica is a global commons, it seems unfair to institute controls which could make tourism even more inaccessible to the average person. However, the proceeds from the auction of tourism rights could provide much-needed revenue for the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat (ATS) and its environmental protection programs.

The Antarctic environment would benefit from increased regulation and control of the burgeoning tourist industry, but it would be preferable for the ATS to ensure that any system it implements protects the environment without turning Antarctica into the sole province of the superrich.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Big Fine for Unsafe Polar Tour Operator

As tourism to polar areas becomes more popular, it is important to remember that traveling in these areas can be dangerous if tour operators do not adhere to safety standards. One company conducting tours in the Arctic Circle near Svalbard, Norway, Oceanwide Expeditions B.V., was recently fined by the governor of Svalbard for unsafe practices that resulted in the injury of 23 people. The ship had traveled too close to a calving glacier, and passengers were struck by water and ice. These actions violated Svalbard regulations concerning tourist activities in the area. Similar dangers to passengers exist in the Antarctic. Oceanwide was fined 800,000 Norwegian kroner, just over $140,000 U.S. dollars.

This incident, like the sinking of the tourist vessel the Explorer in the Antarctic last year, underscores the necessity for high safety standards for tourism in polar regions. While both of these regions provide stunningly beautiful scenery, the surrounding ice and glaciers present unique challenges for ships, and ignoring the seriousness of those challenges will only result in more accidents and injuries.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Antarctic Treaty Parties Duck Tourism Challenges

The latest Antarctic treaty meeting concluded in Kiev without any agreement on proposed Resolutions addressing the increase of Antarctic tourism overall and on discouraging construction of hotels in Antarctica.

“ASOC is very disappointed that the Antarctic Treaty governments were unable to reach consensus on even a single step to reign in rapidly expanding tourism in the Antarctic Treaty Area,” said Ricardo Roura, Coordinator of ASOC’s tourism campaign. “In spite of many excellent and comprehensive papers covering the growth and diversification of the tourism industry, and the sinking of the M/V Explorer last November, there was no political will to take the actions needed to protect human lives and the environment.”

The environmental organizations that are members of ASOC regard this failure of Consultative Parties to protect the values of science and environmental protection espoused in the Antarctic Treaty and its Environmental Protocol as warning signs of a serious blockage in the governance system for Antarctica.

Tourism in Antarctica over the past decade has been characterized by steep annual increases, diversification, and geographic expansion. According to industry statistics, the number of visitors increased to 46,000 thousands in 2007-08. Of these, more than 30,000 passengers set foot ashore, up from 10,000 a decade earlier. The largest increase in the past season has been on ships carrying over 500 passengers, which do not conduct landings, with more than 13,000 passengers traveling in this fashion in 2007-08, up from 6000 the previous year. Tourism is also diversifying, with a growing focus on activities such as kayaking, diving, skiing and mountain-climbing.

ASOC is very concerned about the rapid increases in maritime traffic in the Antarctic in recent years, particularly between the months of November and March, largely fuelled by tourism. This has increased the probabilities of shipping accidents, underscored by the sinking of the Liberian- flagged M/V Explorer in the Antarctic Peninsula off King George Island on November 23, 2007.

No fatalities resulted from this accident, but an unknown amount of fuel was spilled in the Southern Ocean. This is the most serious of a series of shipping accidents in Antarctica in the past several years.

ASOC's Executive Director James Barnes notes, “The sinking of the Explorer should be a wake-up call to the Antarctic Treaty Parties. There are growing commercial pressures in the Antarctic region, and its environmental protection regime is under siege. It is past time for the governments to act.”

ASOC believes that the particularly negative forms of tourism currently emerging, including land- based tourism, should be constrained before their scale is beyond the capacity of the Antarctic Treaty System to control them.

There is currently no comprehensive tourism management regime in Antarctica. Existing tourism instruments do not yet impose any legal obligations and have not curbed the steep growth trajectory of the industry. The only tourism Measure approved in recent years would require mandatory insurance and contingency plans for tourism activities in Antarctica, but it has not yet become effective.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Latest News from the 31st Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting

At this year's Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM), the international environmental community is hoping that several substantive issues will be addressed. These include:

-Antarctic tourism. Tourism in Antarctica over the past decade has been characterised by steep annual increases, diversification, and geographic expansion. ASOC fears that tourism is becoming entrenched as the main Antarctic activity in terms of scale and influence, resulting inevitably in the erosion of the intrinsic values of Antarctica and the primary roles of science
and environmental protection in the Antarctic Treaty System. The particularly negative forms of tourism currently emerging should be constrained before their scale is beyond the capacity of the Antarctic Treaty System to control them.

Sadly, in spite of a robust debate on the basis of important papers introduced by the UK, US, New Zealand, France, Germany, ASOC and IAATO, the governments didn't manage to reach consensus on anything - not even a Resolution (which is purely hortatory and not legally binding).

-Climate change. Climate change is no longer an issue limited to the developed and more populated parts of the world. The Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty have committed themselves to provide comprehensive protection to the Antarctic environment and its dependent ecosystems under the Environmental Protocol. Therefore, and based on the precautionary principle, Consultative Parties should recognize the adverse impacts of climate change on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and take proactive action within the framework of the Treaty System to contribute towards climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Regrettably, no agreement could be reached on anything relating to climate change. The US minimized the impacts of GHG emissions in the Antarctica, terming them 'insignificant' on a local level. It's bases at the South Pole and McMurdo are the largest facilities in the Antarctic.
-Marine Protected Areas. ASOC introduced a comprehensive paper on creation of marine protected areas in the Antarctica, noting the commitments made by governments to set up a representative system by 2012. But there has been virtually no progress on this during the past several years. ASOC suggested the governments agree to a Resolution re-committing themselves to protecting 30% of the Southern Ocean by 2018, with a particular focus on protecting the Ross Sea as the world's largest MPA.
Although many governments supported ASOC's position, in the end there was no consensus on setting any targets for dates or percentages.

To read more about some of the important issues ASOC and others are raising at the ATCM, click here. The international NGO community publishes the ECO newspaper from the ATCM to provide regular updates on meeting progress. ASOC publishes these newspapers here.

We welcome comments from the public. Please use the comments below to provide feedback on the ATCM or other Antarctic issues.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

31st Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting

ASOC is in Kiev, Ukraine from May 31-June 14 for the 31st Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. Click here to read our six Information Papers, including:

-The Impact of Climate Change on Antarctic Ecosystems
-A Decade of Antarctic Tourism: Status, Change, and Actions Needed