Since the first recorded landing on Antarctica almost two hundred years ago there have been hundreds of thousands of visits to the continent. Yet humankind’s fascination with the world’s most extreme landmass just seems to grow year on year.
Up to 45 thousand people visit Antarctica annually and it is the job of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) to ensure that environmental impact on this pristine ecosystem is kept to a minimum.
The IAATO has announced that its 2013 annual summit is to be held in Chile for the first time, at the Antarctic launch point of Punta Arenas. There are 111 tour operators that make the IAATO, spread across 14 countries, and Chile’s selection for the summit has been a long time coming.
Chile’s role in Antarctic exploration cannot be understated. A high proportion of tourist trips and research expeditions to Antarctica originate by boat from Punta Arenas and, along with Argentina, Chile can be considered the world’s gateway to Antarctica.
While a hardly hospitable environment to humankind, Antarctica and its surrounding waters are home to a vast amount of animal life that exist together in an elegant yet vulnerable ecosystem.
The need to temper human impact on the Antarctic region has long been recognised, and led to the signing of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 that designated Antarctica as a “natural reserve devoted to peace and science.”
The IAATO was founded in 1991 due to a boom in tourist interest in Antarctica that has continued to grow steadily. The association has been imperative to several regulations that have contributed to the continued preservation of the continent.
IAATO recently backed measures to prevent heavy fuel vessels travelling to the island, meaning that no single boat may carry more than 500 passengers at a time and leading to life saving reductions in fuel contamination of Antarctic waters.
The meeting at Punta Arenas next year will discuss the development of further measures to protect the continent, and will also ensure that all tour operators are conducting stringent environmental assessment plans and are abiding by the laws of the 1959 treaty.
Tourist season in Antarctica will open later this year, for more information click here.