Antarctic tourist numbers to be cut

The 28 consultative parties to the Antarctic treaty have agreed to limit the number of people visiting Antarctica, the Observer reported. Agreed at the just-concluded consultative meeting in the US city of Baltimore, the restrictions come as the number of visitors to the continent soared to 45,000 in the 2008-2009 season, from 6,700 in 1992-1993.


In an attempt to prevent damage to Antarctica’s fragile and unique ecosystem, only one vessel – and just 100 visitors from it — will be allowed on shore at a site at any given time. Cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers will be prohibited from landing anyone.


Visitor numbers have alarmed environmentalists keen to protect the region. Home to several species of penguins and seals, and a vital feeding ground for whales, Antarctica is severely threatened by global warming. Scientists also fear that visitors could unwittingly introduce invasive species, such as rats, insects and plants, with the potential to devastate the delicate frozen landscape.


The mandatory measures – previously voluntary — also are designed to prevent disasters at sea. Many of the vessels in the area are not equipped to cope with the harsh ocean conditions and the dangers of icebergs, an increasing risk as climate change precipitates the breaking up of ice. There also are concerns over the difficulties of evacuating huge cruise liners carrying 2,000 to 3,000 passengers.


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