Antarctic tourism to get safer, more environmentally friendly

by Emily DUNBAR on July 31, 2009

The 20th Annual Meeting of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) was held last month, with marine safety and the impact of travel on the Antarctic environment being the main topics of discussion.

Attending members adopted measures that will hopefully ensure that travel to the region becomes safer, while also forming a working group to study ways to reduce the carbon footprint of tourism on the fragile ecosystem there.

Over the past couple of years there have been several high profile incidences involving Antarctic cruise ships, including the sinking of the MS Explorer back in 2007, and two ships running aground in December 2008 and again in February of this year.

In response to these accidents, the IAATO passed a series of actions to enhance marine safety. The changes include mandatory participation in a satellite tracking program for all IAATO members, the conversion of all open lifeboats to partially or fully closed boats, and a new rule that stipulates that all ships sailing below 60ยบ South have “a captain or appointed ice pilot with Antarctic experience.”

Clearly there are safety concerns, and these changes will help to ensure that passengers continue to be safe and that they can be located more quickly by rescue crews, should the need arise.

It is important that the IAATO thinks about sustainable travel to Antarctica as it shows that they are moving towards becoming better stewards of the environment and ensuring that the continent remains in pristine condition.

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