Imagining Antarctica as a World Park: Regulating Tourism
Managing tourism in extremely scenic but ecologically sensitive Antarctic, whose chief export remains scientific data, has emerged in recent years as one of the key questions facing the ATS, characterized by steep annual increases, diversification, and geographical expansion. The increasing number of tourists visiting specific or select, more accessible, and logistically considered as safe areas on the continent or its surrounding islands has led to serious concern over their likely environmental, legal, as well as geopolitical implications in the ATS. Although Antarctic tourism began in the late 1950s, it remained at low levels until the early 1990s when it took off. From a base of 4698 tourists in the 1990–91 summer, annual numbers of tourists landing from sea borne vessels in the Antarctic Treaty area have risen to approximately 32 198 in the summer of 2007–08.
What makes Antarctic tourism different from tourism in other parts of the globe is the peculiar geographical and legal–geopolitical setting of the region. Despite revolutionary improvements in the technology and logistics in recent years, it is the physical geography of the area that dictates the when and 'where' of Antarctic tourism. As a result, tourist visits tend to concentrate at the most accessible parts of the Antarctic (such as the northern Antarctic Peninsula and the sub Antarctic islands, particularly South Georgia, Macquarie Island, South Shetland Islands, and New Zealand sub Antarctic islands) and coincide – even clash – with the most productive period for scientific research, that is, the Antarctic summer.
Jurisdictional and liability related uncertainties sur rounding Antarctic tourism are further complicated when third parties are involved. The dilemma that the ATPs continue to face in terms of all third party activities in the Antarctic – but more so in the case of tourism, due to its multinational character – arises out of generally accepted principle in international law that no treaty creates obligations for any third party without its consent. If that is so, then what kind of 'appropriate efforts' should the ATPs take (under Article X of the Antarctic Treaty) to ensure that tour companies and/or tourists do not engage in ''any activity contrary to the principles or purposes of the Antarctic Treaty.'' Even though tourismrelated activities in the Antarctic are being accepted by the ATPs as a peaceful use of the Antarctic, many potential problems remain.
According to the Association of Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), Antarctica is not a theme park, but a region protected according to the basic principles of a World Park – a conception of Antarctica emerging from the 1972 World Park Congress. The World Park Antarctica concept is based on the protection of the Antarctica wilderness values and wildlife, and in the maintenance of Antarctica as a zone of peace, free of all weapons, and devoted to international scientific cooperation. The representation of Antarctica as a 'World Park' has been contested by a number of leading Antarctic Treaty parties, who would prefer to visualize Antarctica as a 'natural reserve' devoted to science and peace.
Tourism has the potential to reinforce territorial claims on Antarctica, using tourism, and control of tourist activity, to support a particular claim to sovereignty. One might argue that, the primary reason for Argentina and Chile promoting tourist activity on the Antarctic Peninsula is that it provides support for their territorial claims. In the light of the issues raised above, the claimant states face a serious challenge to their claims and assertions of sovereignty. What remains obvious under the prevailing circumstances is that regulation of Antarctic tourism will continue to take place at three important levels: (1) the ATS level, (2) the governmental level, and (3) tourism industry level. Undoubtedly, all the three have their respective contributions to make in an effective regulation of Antarctic tourism.
- Antarctica as a ‘Natural Reserve’ Devoted to Peace and Science: Since the 1990s
- ‘Question of Antarctica’ in the United Nations: The Rise and Decline of Alternative Visualization of the Antarctic
- Antarctica as a Continent of Science and Peace: 1950s and 1960s
- IGY (1957–58) and the Discursive Transformation of the Antarctic