Achieving integrated management of tourism in Antarctica is the first priority for the Australian Antarctic Division at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) that begins in Cape Town tonight [Australian EST].

The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), which is leading the push in the development of an Antarctic tourism industry accreditation scheme, will present its proposal at this week’s meeting.

Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Antarctic, said there was a need to better manage non-government activities if we were to protect Antarctica’s wilderness and wildlife in the future.

“There has been a dramatic increase in tourism numbers to Antarctica in the past 10 years. Last year saw some 20,000 visitors on the ice,” Dr Stone said.

“Where once the ultimate was to fly over the continent many tourists now prefer a closer experience in a cruise ship or in a smaller ice-strengthened vessel, with landings on the Antarctic Peninsula. For the more adventurous there is a range of on-shore experiences now being advertised by tour operators, many of whom are Australian.

“While the 45 Antarctic Treaty nations are concerned to see an agreed and coordinated approach to managing tourism across the continent, I am also keen to engage with Australia’s tour operators to ensure they continue to provide the highest standard of operation.

“Tour prerequisites should include mandatory adequate insurance, an emergency contingency plan, approved environmental impact assessment and appropriately skilled and experienced operators and guides.

“The AAD has also developed a database to be presented at this week’s meeting that is designed to provide centralised data about the non-scientific activities in the Antarctic, Dr Stone said.

“Such information is essential for monitoring the growth in visitor numbers and any resulting environmental impacts,” Dr Stone said.

“Antarctica is no longer the exclusive domain of scientists. While the continuation of the scientific work in Antarctica is critical for understanding issues such as climate change and the protection of the Antarctic environment, it is important to acknowledge the passion we all share for the last great wilderness on Earth.

“The objective is to ensure we do not love the place to death.”