Antarctica is one of the most fascinating places in the world. It’s a continent on its own and about twice the size of Australia. It is the only continent without any proper government setup. It makes sense as the temperatures remain consistently below -50 degrees Celsius so no one really cares about holding the throne there as every human being there remains constantly busy in fighting off the cold every single day. The freezing continent is virtually uninhabited as mere one thousand people live there.
Antarctica, the southernmost continent and site of the South Pole, is a massive ice-covered landmass. Most cruises to the continent visit the Antarctic Peninsula, which stretches toward South America. The peninsula’s isolated terrain also shelters rich wildlife, including many penguins, seals, polar bears and whales among several other creatures.
So if adventure is your thing and if you’re looking for any unique travel destination, Antarctica is a must-visit for you. Despite being one of the coldest places on earth, the resilient wildlife makes it a great place for nature-watching. Antarctica is considered one of the most pristine landscapes in the world and is used mainly as a center for scientific research.
But in the last fifty years or so tourism has been gradually increasing in this distant part of the world. Actually, tourism in Antarctica started by the sea in the 1960s. Air overflights of Antarctica started in the 1970s with sightseeing flights by airliners from Australia and New Zealand and were resumed in the 1990s. The (summer) tour season lasts from November to March. Most of the estimated 14,762 visitors to Antarctica in 1999-2000 were on sea cruises. During the 2009 to 2010 tourist season, over 37,000 people visited Antarctica.
Land activities in Antarctica include camping, hiking and cross country skiing. These activities have become especially popular in recent times, as suggested by the increased number of tourists that come to visit Antarctica. Tourism may be at its peak these years but it doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want to in this part of the Earth. Actually, if you are visiting the South Pole, there are some very strict rules that you must follow. Some of these are:
1. Keep Your Distance From Antarctic Wildlife
Always remember to keep your distance from the wildlife, including seals, penguins and other birds. However, the animals themselves aren’t aware of these regulations and are also not afraid of humans. If you position yourself quietly, they may well approach you, which is fine. However, you must never touch, feed or obstruct them or use flash photography, and noise should be kept to a minimum. Special care is needed when animals are breeding or molting.
2. Don’t Disturb Protected Sites
A variety of areas in the Antarctic have been given special protection because of their particular ecological, scientific, historic, or other values. Entry into certain areas may be prohibited except in accordance with a permit issued by an appropriate national authority. Activities in and near designated Historic Sites and Monuments and certain other areas may be subject to special restrictions. Don’t disturb such historic sites or current sites.
Much like any kind of monument, you’re not meant to really go near these sites or take anything from them. In emergencies, say a surprise blizzard, they can be used. Current sites are also not meant to be disturbed, as often, those stationed there are conducting sensitive research, and your presence might accidentally disrupt their work.
3. Don’t Hinder In The Scientific Research
In this continent, multiple types of research are always going on as we don’t have much information about this place. So do not ever interfere with or remove scientific equipment or marker posts, and do not disturb experimental study sites, field camps, or supplies.
4. Keep Antarctica Pristine
Antarctica remains relatively pristine, the largest wilderness area on earth. It has not yet been subjected to large scale human perturbations. Do not dispose of litter or garbage on land. Open burning is prohibited. Do not disturb or pollute lakes or streams. Any materials discarded at sea must be disposed of properly. Do not paint or engrave names or graffiti on rocks or buildings.
5. Do Not Walk On Lichen
When people imagine Antarctica, it’s mostly endless snow with the occasional flash of the black underlying rock. But plants do grow in Antarctica – several types of grass, moss and lichen. As you can imagine, they take a long time to grow, what with the six months of perpetual darkness and temperatures that even in summer can plunge below -20 degrees Celsius. Do not step on them, and stick to the snow instead. That lichen might not look like much, but it is very important to Antarctica’s ecosystem.
6. Take No Souvenirs From Antarctica
Never take anything away from Antarctica. No souvenirs or mementos are allowed. This includes rocks, feathers, bones, eggs and any kind of biological material including traces of soil. Taking anything man-made is also completely banned, as some might actually be research equipment. If you happen to find anything of scientific interest – a fossil, for example – note the location, take a picture and then leave it there and report to authorities. As a scientist can get much more out of that fossil than you can.
7. Remember To Collect Your Cigarette Ash
To keep Antarctica pristine as possible, a lot of the rules are dedicated to make sure that nothing pollutes the environment. The obvious ones are things mentioned already like no littering and no graffiti. However, if you’re a smoker, there’s an extra rule: you have to collect every bit of ash you make. Even in Antarctica, you can only smoke in designated areas and then you have to carry all that ash until you leave Antarctica and can safely deposit it (this also counts for any litter you make). Depositing any rubbish or ash in the sea, at any point, is also not allowed under any circumstances, so wait until you reach land or evade all this fuss altogether by not smoking at all.
8. Do Not Expect To Get Rescued
This sounds pretty harsh, but there are a few people in Antarctica, with a finite amount of resources in such a massive land, so rescuing others isn’t a possibility. In other words, saving just one person who strayed from their tour group is more trouble than it’s worth. And with the unpredictable weather conditions, rescues are basically impossible.
You will be in a group of people, and luckily, most tour operations will ensure that you’re kept safe and that you’re briefed on how you can keep yourself safe. For example, glaciers are particularly dangerous, as snow might cover hidden crevasses that you can fall into. So be careful.