9 Apr 2009

Government bases in Antarctica 'worse than tourism'

10:55 am on 9 April 2009

An operator running tourist cruises in the Antarctic region believes the environmental impact of tourism is miniscule when compared to that of national programmes.

At the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Baltimore, Foreign Minister Murray McCully backed a proposal from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for tighter restrictions on tourism.

Tourism to Antarctica has increased five-fold since the early 1990s, with numbers between 2007 and 2008 reaching just over 33,000.

The owner of Heritage Expeditions, Rodney Russ, wants greater scrutiny of the environmental impact of the activity of various governments at bases in Antarctica.

Mrs Clinton has proposed limiting landings by tourist ships carrying large numbers of passengers, however Mr Russ says the vast majority of tourists going to Antarctica do not leave their ship.

Cath Wallace, co-chairperson of the Environment and Conservation Organisation, says the safety of the Antarctic environment is paramount, and if an oil spill gets into the sea ice or freshwater ice it can do great damage.

She does not support a ban on tourism but believes tourist numbers should be capped at the present level, which she says is at the limit the area can deal with.