(Australian Associated Press)
Tourist numbers to Antarctica have surpassed 50,000 for the first time, rising for the seventh consecutive season due to an ever-expanding number of flights and voyages.
But the southernmost continent is not about to be overrun, given comprehensive provisions otherwise known as the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) this week reported there were 51,707 visitors to the Antarctic between November and March, a rise of 17 per cent from 2016-17, with more than 42,500 of those venturing ashore.
The upward trend has been recorded by IAATO since 2011-12.
The Australian Antarctic Division says there is no overall limit to the number of visitors to the vast, icy continent.
“Tourism is an appropriate use of Antarctica, provided it is conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” an AAD spokeswoman told AAP on Wednesday.
“Antarctica is a destination that attracts global interest.
“The focus of management attention is on sites that are particularly popular and receive larger numbers of visitors, or particularly sensitive sites.”
While the vast majority who stepped foot on Antarctica travelled solely by sea, some took to the skies.
A total of 3408 skipped the treacherous sea voyage from Chile across Drake Passage and flew to the South Shetland Islands, 120km from the Antarctic Peninsula, before boarding a vessel.
A select 580 visitors flew to the Antarctic interior for deep field excursions under expert supervision.
The remaining 9131 people experienced Antarctica on one-of-four cruise-only vessels, which each carrying more than 500 passengers but don’t make landings.
According to the AAD, the rise in tourists is “made possible by a general increase in the number of companies operating” and a subsequent hike in the number of ships and voyages.
“Antarctic tourism provides many people, including Australians, the opportunity to visit Antarctica and see in person its wilderness, wildlife, research stations and historic features,” the spokeswoman said.
“All tourist activities undergo an environmental assessment before they can proceed.”
In addition to the protocol, private operators must adhere to mandatory measures addressing safety, self-sufficiency, ship landing procedures and effective responses to environmental emergencies for all adventures.
Non-mandatory measures implemented by Treaty parties include site-specific guidelines, restrictions on the numbers of passengers ashore or vessels present at any site, and guide-to-visitor ratios for shore excursions.
VISITORS TO ANTARCTICA DURING 2017-18 SEASON
* 51,707, up 17 per cent from 2016-17
* 9131 on cruise-only expeditions, up 22 per cent
* 3408 flew to the South Shetland Islands rather than by sea, up six per cent
* 580 travelled to the Antarctic interior, up by 128 people
* A third of tourists were from the US, 16 per cent from China and 11 per cent from Australia