A guide to visiting Antarctica

Antarctic Treaty and tourism operator representatives recently revised management guidelines for sites used by visitors on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Many people visit Antarctica as tourists each summer, travelling aboard ships, and making shore landings to see wildlife, historic remains, scenery, and other features. Some sites are particularly popular, and some are more sensitive than others, because of their wildlife, vegetation, topography or other factors.

If not carefully managed, tourism could have an impact on the environmental and scientific values of these sites. To help ensure that visits take into account the individual features and sensitivities of these sites, the Antarctic Treaty countries have put in place ‘site guidelines’ which convey site-specific management arrangements for many of these places. There are currently site guidelines for 35 sites, with the majority in the Antarctic Peninsula region (the most commonly visited area), and others in the Ross Sea and East Antarctic regions.

The site guidelines are designed for tour guides and other visitors to use in planning shore landings, and while ashore. The guidelines take into account the physical and biological characteristics of the sites, as well as the practical aspects of how visitors can access and move around the areas.

The guidelines employ various management measures, including zoning (for example closed areas), recommended boat landing sites, preferred routes, limits on group sizes or on numbers of visitors, and information on protecting the values of each site. Maps and photos are used to show locations of key features, wildlife breeding areas or congregations, vegetation, routes, and dangerous areas.

In January 2013 a small international team, including Antarctic specialists from the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and Argentina, as well as a representative of the tourism industry, conducted a management visit in the Antarctic Peninsula region. The objective was to review, on site, some of the site guidelines for popular and sensitive sites used by visitors. The visit was organised by the United Kingdom, and was supported by the multi-purpose icebreaker HMS Protector.

The team inspected 12 sites where guidelines are in place, focussing on the physical and biological features of the sites (for example wildlife congregations and breeding areas, and areas of vegetation). They looked at areas of interest to visitors such as scenic points, or routes to features, as well as the management arrangements in place under the existing guidelines (for example closed areas, recommended routes, limits on numbers, and landing sites). Feedback from the tourism industry about using the sites and the site guidelines was also considered. The team looked to see whether any changes to the site were evident, and whether any impacts could be observed.

Taking the on-site observations into account, the team revised the guidelines to ensure that the management for these sites remains up-to-date and relevant. The team also drafted new site guidelines for two additional sites that are used by visitors.

The proposals for the new and revised site guidelines will be considered for adoption by the 36th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Brussels, Belgium, in May 2013.

Phil Tracey
Senior Policy Adviser,
Australian Antarctic Division