In recent decades travel to visit Antarctica has exploded. This last frontier has now become a popular tourist destination where modern-day explorers (travelers) come to experience pure adventure and untouched nature at its finest. Antarctica tourism is at an all-time high.
Antarctica is a destination where sustainable travel is a must and we experienced this firsthand when we sailed to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions.
Most modern-day explorers experience Antarctica by expedition companies that offer great journeys for the everyday person who wants to explore the seventh continent. These expedition companies are among the leaders in protecting and preserving Antarctica for future generations.
On top of that, they pass on their passion about Antarctica to their passengers by making everybody who visits Antarctica an ambassador for preserving and protecting it.
Ecotourism in Antarctica allows visitors to explore and experience Antarctica without having adverse effects on the environment. This is important when visiting such a vulnerable location.
In our travels, we have visited many great locations but most of those locations have been seeing visitors for decades. They are now facing deep repercussions due to the negative effects of tourism. We cannot let this happen to Antarctica.
Here’s our guide on how to visit Antarctica responsibly and who you should engage in Antarctica tourism with.
We will cover what is the definition of ecotourism, why is ecotourism important when traveling to Antarctica, the negative and positive effects of Antarctica tourism.
We aim to showcase and highlight everything we learned while exploring Antarctica responsibly with Quark Expeditions.
What Does Ecotourism Have to do with Antarctica Tourism?
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Before we understand traveling sustainably to Antarctica, we need to understand what ecotourism is. This is a world that has been becoming more popular every year a lot like eco-friendly, responsible travel and sustainable travel. All of these words gravitate around ecotourism.
But what does ecotourism mean for Antarctica tourism?
Ecotourism in Antarctica is now being defined as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the Antarctic environment not just for the present time but for feature generations to come.
This form of travel is important to Antarctica because it is a place that only has its visitors to be the voice for it. Compared to other places in the world that have locals who live there, Antarctica has no residents that can truly stand up for it.
Ecotourism in Antarctica is about ensuring that your visit has a positive impact on Antarctica and its surrounding areas.
This definition is something we hold dearly to your hearts as we explore our amazing planet and mark off the world’s top 100 travel adventures. It is something that we preach about all the time and that we live by.
So naturally, traveling with an eco-friendly tour operator like Quark Expeditions was imperative for us as we explored the 7th content (Antarctica) sustainably.
Why is Eco Focused Antarctica Tourism Important?
To us, ecotourism is important because we have seen the negative effects while traveling and it breaks our hearts. So many great places are being loved to death by travelers who just don’t realize what they are doing.
Even more alarming, also by travelers who just don’t care. This is sad and it is an education we need to preach to the world about.
Ecotourism and traveling sustainably are no longer optional practices. Ecotourism is intended to have a less environmental impact than traditional tourism if done right. It holds the potential to improve the social, cultural and economic well-being of travel destinations and local communities across the world.
If we raise awareness of pristine natural environments (like partaking in Antarctica tourism responsibly and how to do it), we are creating evangelists for preservation.
That’s why ecotourism is important and why it should be something every traveler lives by on every trip they take.
Threats to Antarctica We Need to Know About
Antarctica is one of the most pristine natural environments left in the world, so naturally, there are many things that threaten it. Some things are preventable and some things out of our hands.
All we can do is educate everyone who visits and hope that what we say sticks with them. Of course, not just on travels to Antarctica but all travels around the world. Below we break down the most common things that threaten Antarctica.
Pollution by Humans: Sadly, humans are the greatest threat to Antarctica. We are destroying our planet at an alarming rate. The biggest man-made threats caused by humans are regional warming, ocean acidification and loss of sea ice, all linked to carbon dioxide. Talking about climate change can be difficult as a traveler since there are arguments that travelers highly contribute to it. On top of carbon dioxide, it is fishing nets, plastics, lines, hooks, discarded equipment and chemicals that are found in the Antarctic ice and in the bodies of wildlife throughout Antarctica. All contributed by humans from around the world.
Visiting Tourists: Antarctica tourism is at an overwhelming high, with it now being easily accessible by ships and aircraft. While anyone on an expedition to Antarctica will only spend a relatively small amount of time actually on land, the impact is considered high. This is because it takes so much fuel to get there and they are visiting the same spots time after time.
Erosion or disturbance of fragile environments: Even just a few people walking over the same piece of the ground, using the same routes, will leave paths and other scars. On top of that, the growth in construction of buildings, roads, fuel storage and runways is hurting this fragile environment.
Invasive Species: Organisms that are not native to Antarctica are showing up on its shores. This can happen by travelers and researchers who accidentally bring in insects or seeds on their boots, clothes, food, cargo and equipment without knowing it. Some of these foreign species are thriving due to climate change and that they do not have threats like they do in other places.
Impact on breeding birds: This isn’t something people think about when they are excited to see that nesting penguin or nesting blue-eyed shag, but birds are easily scared by humans. Due to the influx of travelers to Antarctica, birds have abandoned their nests and, in some locations, have even vacated areas that get regularly visited (disturbed) by travelers.
Oil spills from ships and boats: This is something every ship in the waters around Antarctica fears; hitting the ice and rupturing a holding tank. Also, if a vessel sinks and all the polluting fluids escape into Antarctica’s pristine environment, it definitely has an impact.
Tourist Accidents: There have been a few tourist accidents that have happened in Antarctica. One is the Mount Erebus Air crash in 1979 and the other one was the sinking of the M/V Explorer in 2007. Despite this, there have been no major pollution incidents or losses of life as a result of Antarctica tourism.
Fishing illegally and legally: Our world’s oceans are overfished and there are illegal fishing boats that ignore current regulations every single day. Some are fishing in Antarctic waters as we speak. Some are also fishing for krill, the single most significant source of food for many of the animals in Antarctica.
Exploration and exploitation of mineral reserves, oil and gas: This is one of the greatest threats to Antarctica and, as of now, the Antarctic Treaty bans all mining and mineral exposition indefinitely. That said, this ban comes up for review in 2048. If the Antarctic Treaty is not renewed, it will be certain death to one of the last pristine areas of our planet.
What is the Antarctic Treaty?
Antarctica tourism is self-regulated by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). This organization sets strict guidelines for all tour operators and ships that visit Antarctica and its surrounding islands.
The rules and regulations in Antarctica are strict for a reason and such guidelines limit the size of the ships that can cruise in the Antarctic waters. They also control the number of people that can land at current sights around Antarctica.
The IAATO’s main goal is to protect Antarctica from being loved to death by travelers. All tour operators must advise by these rules and regulations set in place.
Wait, doesn’t that make every tour operator in Antarctica eco-friendly? Yes, all tour operators that run expeditions to Antarctica are considered eco-friendly. But there is only one that, year after year, leads them all in not only sustainable travel practices in Antarctica but also raising the eco-standards in expedition tours to the polar regions.
They also work hand in hand with the IAATO and other partners to uphold these standards in acting as one of the main protectors of Antarctica.
The Positive Effects When You Visit Antarctica
The power of tourism can be huge, even one visitor can make positive change across the whole world. Many travelers, like us, fall in love with the places they visit. Antarctica is one of those places that steals your heart away.
Most, if not all, travelers become ambassadors for Antarctica after their visit. This is a huge positive effect that visiting Antarctica creates that not many places in the world create.
The more voices that are speaking on behalf of Antarctica the better. Unlike other places in the world, no-one lives permanently on Antarctica, so there are no native residents to speak up for it.
The power of high-end travelers that go on expeditions to Antarctica is huge. Since traveling to Antarctica is expensive, most travelers are well educated and more influential than any other travelers visiting anywhere else in the world.
These visitors are more likely to be receptive to the message of conservation. This message is reinforced by the educational atmosphere onboard most expedition ships that visit Antarctica and it was something that we loved about our Quark Expeditions trip to Antarctica.
How to Decide if a Company is Eco-friendly
In today’s world, it is hard to cut through all of the buzz on the internet to find out what tour company truly travels responsibly to Antarctica. Especially when there are already high standards put in place for all operators that visit Antarctica.
While all operators must comply with the regulations put in place in order to offer trips to Antarctica, adhering to these and nothing more would be considered a low standard.
Below are a few eco-friendly things you can look for when looking at booking an expedition to Antarctica:
- How long have they been sailing to Antarctica?
- How new or up to date is their ship?
- What size ship do they sail to Antarctica?
- Are activities limited?
- Are activities eco-friendly?
- What’s the experience of expedition leaders and staff members?
- Do they support different organizations?
- Who are they partnering with?
- Do they support researchers?
- Do they support research centers in Antarctica with supplies?
- Do they have a sustainable development program?
- Have you seen selfies with wildlife or drone photos posted from their past guests?
- Is the sustainable message front and center or is it hidden?
Quark Expeditions Sustainability Initiatives in Antarctica Tourism
We have been lucky enough to experience Quark Expeditions on an amazing trip to Antarctica and I can tell you that they stand true to their sustainability initiatives.
Responsible tourism is in their DNA. It is not something they just do because they have to. It is something they believe in as a company and are passionate about.
They are deeply rooted in environmentally responsible tourism, inside and out. As a long-serving, active member of both the IAATO and the AECO, Quark Expeditions adheres to stringent guidelines.
They are an industry leader in sustainability initiatives by not just doing the basic requirements but in going above and beyond.
Quark Expeditions Sustainability Initiatives Includes:
- Quark Expeditions only burns Marine Gas Oil (MGO), a clean-burning fuel with a low emission factor.
- Quark Expeditions conforms to all international regulations/policies governing the disposal of waste at sea.
- Quark Expeditions serves only sustainable seafood and meats onboard.
- Quark Expeditions only use eco-friendly laundry chemicals & cabin amenities.
- Quark Expeditions provide every passenger with a reusable water bottle.
- Quark Expeditions only uses recycled, acid-free paper onboard and limits paper use.
- Quark Expeditions only uses recycled paper and acid-free inks in the manufacturing of their brochures.
In addition, Quark Expeditions supports many charities throughout the year. On top of that, many of their staff, not only support those charities but are involved in them personally. This drives a true passion to promote and protect Antarctica and its natural wonders.
While onboard with Quark Expeditions you will have many chances to learn and talk about the challenges that Antarctica faces. You will also have the chance to help out those charities by doing research on the ship or donating money.
Quark Expeditions offers great trips that not only allow you to explore Antarctica but actually help it out by traveling with a researcher, supplying research centers support while you’re visiting and let’s not forget the famous auction the last night of each expedition.
The auction donates all of the proceeds to a selected charity. This is the opportunity to bid on an win unique items from your trip. The hottest item of the night is always the flag that flew on the ship while you explored Antarctica.
Simple events like this can raise huge funds to help protect Antarctica. Quark Expeditions does a great job of actively involving their passengers without pressuring them to do things.
Below are a few charities that Quark Expeditions supports:
- Polar Bears International
- Clean up Svalbard
- Underwater Bait Setter
- The South Georgia Heritage Trust
- Penguin Watch
24 Tips to Visit Antarctica Responsibly
Now that you know who offers eco-friendly trips to Antarctica, let us focus on how you can make your visit to Antarctica more responsible. These are steps that anyone can do on an expedition to Antarctica.
Some of these steps are required by the guidelines, however, others are up to you as a cautious traveler who cares about our planet. Below are the best tips for you to visit Antarctica responsibly.
- Book an Antarctic expedition with an eco-friendly company (like Quark Expeditions) that not just operates under the rules and regulations of IAATO but helps raise the standards in eco-friendly Antarctica tourism practices.
- Take a small ship tour to Antarctica. Just say no to all large ship cruises and expeditions. It is best to pick a company that runs small group tours as Quark Expeditions does. By picking a small group expedition, you’re helping minimize the impact your visit will have on Antarctica.
- Travel to Antarctica in the low season. Antarctica’s travel season is limited however, there are low seasons where some ships operate even if they are not full. The best time to go to Antarctica is not the most eco-friendly time to visit. Low seasons in Antarctica are October, November, March, and April. If you are someone who is looking to mitigate your impact, those are the months you will want to visit.
- You should bring as little as possible trash on board. Ships are outfitted to deal with all the trash that comes on board with passengers however if every passenger brings as little trash on board as possible, this means fewer resources will be used to deal with that trash.
- Navigate the Drake Passage. If you are someone who truly cares about our world’s environment it is best to sail across the Drake Passage instead of flying over it. Sailing uses less fuel and this means fewer carbon emissions than flying does.
- Follow the rules that are set in place. This can be one of the most challenging ones. When you are on vacation you don’t want to be told what to do, I get it. However, all the rules that your expedition ship enforces are for the best of Antarctica and they should be respected.
- It is important to take quarantine laws seriously. It is mandatory for tour operators to maintain strict quarantine laws before entering Antarctic waters. These steps are upheld every time a passenger disembarks and embarks the ship.
- Once you get on the ship everything must get cleaned in the mandatory boot party. That’s one nice thing about Quark Expeditions, they understand rules are rules. But who said you can’t have fun while enforcing the rules?
- Everything that you are taking or wearing off the ship must be cleaned and checked. Velcro and other fabrics must be vacuumed off, all supplied boots must be cleaned and dipped in sanitizer when leaving and boarding the ship. Your rain pants and jackets must also be washed and kept in a clean environment. All gear including tripods and monopods must also be sanitized before leaving the ship and getting back on board.
- Our Quark Expeditions ship was outfitted with a mudroom that had bins filled with sanitizer making this process easy. It is a simple process, you just step in the bins and go.
- You should only take filtered water in the supplied reusable water bottles that are given to you from Quark Expeditions for all of your excursions. If you have your own, that is fine, but you can only fill it with filtered water and the outside must be sanitized before heading off the ship.
- You must leave all the food and snacks on board. Nothing should be taken off the ship and packed into your backpack. If you require snacks for health reasons you should talk to your expedition leaders and they will supply you with everything you will need.
- Respect the wildlife. This one I cannot stress enough. So many travelers seem to lose their brains when they travel. Many forget all rules and also forget that they are wild creatures.
- It is not ok to take selfies with the wildlife (don’t do it for the gram!). It is not ok to stand in the way blocking them from passing so you can get a photo. You should stay off penguin highways and move aside.
- It is important to respect the wildlife of Antarctica since they are the only true residents and you are just a visitor.
- Keep at least 3 meters, or 10 feet, away from all animals at all times. Try not to stay there very long since this can make the wildlife nervous. Try to understand and read the wildlife too. If a penguin is squeaking that means they are nervous about you. It is always best to move slowly and it is best to kneel down, so you are not tall and intimidating.
- Keep in mind to stay within the flagged path at all times. If you step out, you should fill in your boot marks in the snow. Penguins can easily fall into boot marks and become stuck.
- Wildlife will come up to you when you visit Antarctica. It is crazy how curious wildlife can be on the 7th continent. You can be sitting on a rock, minding your own business and have a penguin come right up to you and check you out. This is the magic of visiting Antarctica.
- If one of the many amazing creatures in Antarctica does come up to you, just take it in. Do not try to get closer to it and if you can, move back slowly. Do not stick your selfie stick around it or at it for a photo and no matter what you do…. do not reach out and touch it. Like I said before people seem to leave their brains at home while traveling and they do dumb stuff. Don’t be that person.
- While on zodiac cruises keep in mind to stay within the zodiac especially among wildlife. You should never put your selfie sticks past the zodiac or into the water to get a photo. This can be a threatening movement to the wildlife and potentially scare them away.
- Like every place you visit in the world, only take memories and photos away with you. NEVER take rocks, plants or shells. There are other great souvenirs you can bring back.
- On many of the expeditions, the staff members are also conducting scientific research in the field. This is just another way the expedition ships are helping out in Antarctica. This is a great opportunity for you to join in firsthand.
- Quark Expeditions also offers a few different expeditions where it’s scientific-based with a special guest scientist who is on board. If you want to contribute your time and skills to science, these itineraries are for you.
- Don’t just visit Antarctica but instead become an ambassador of Antarctica for life. Your (our!) voice is important in preserving Antarctica for future generations. Stand up and protect it. Do whatever you can to help preserve it. Start by sharing this post!
Ending Thoughts on Antarctica Tourism
Awareness is key and if we can help travelers be more conscious of the issues, we can facilitate an unparalleled spread of vital information to every traveler that wishes to visit this amazing continent.
Knowledge is power (also one of Lina’s favorite sayings!). Use the knowledge to educate others and help raise awareness of the issues that this fragile place faces daily. Together we can ensure that Antarctica tourism remains a positive experience.
We encourage you to visit, be respectful and learn. Antarctica doesn’t have any residents. There is nobody but its visitors who can share the stories and help stand up to protect one of the world’s last gems.
It’s a place that is so vulnerable and it needs a voice. We challenge you to be the voice and to visit Antarctica with the knowledge of how you can help contribute to ecotourism.
Lastly, we recommend discovering the 7th content with Quark Expeditions. They are the leader in running eco-friendly tours to Antarctica. Your experience will be unlike anything you have ever experienced before.
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Adventure Options: Camping, Hiking, Kayaking, SUP and Cross Country Skiing
|Antarctic Express: Fly the Drake|
Adventure Options: Kayaking and SUP
- Experience the fastest, most direct way to Antarctica
- Fly over the Drake Passage
|Epic Antarctica: Crossing the Circle via Falklands and South Georgia
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