Strengthening wilderness protection in Antarctica

Door: Antje Neumann | Categorie: Uncategorized
Tourists in Antarctica.

Tourists in Antarctica.

Human activities, especially those of tourism and other non-governmental character, have been increased substantially in Antarctica over the two last decades, both in numbers as well in diversity. Alone in the season of 2013/14, 37,405 tourists visited Antarctica, while in 2003/04 numbers accounted for 27,537 visitors, and in 1993/94 for 6,704 visitors only (IAATO statistics, 2015). In respect of diversity, classical tourism cruise ship became supplemented by such activities as kayaking, scuba diving, helicopter flights and landings, climbing, extended walks and marathons over the years (IAATO statistics, 2009/10). This expansion results in reduction, disappearance, fragmentation or isolation of habitats and natural landscapes, and thus clearly affects Antarctic wilderness adversely. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty of 1991, which entered into force in 1998, directs Parties to the Protocol to plan and conduct activities so as to limit adverse impacts and to avoid, inter alia, “degradation or substantial risk to, areas of […] wilderness significance” confirming that the protection of wilderness values, among others, must be a “fundamental consideration in the planning and conduct of all activities in the Antarctic Treaty area”. Additionally in 2009, General Principles for tourism in Antarctica were adopted, stating, among others, that “Tourism should not be allowed to contribute to the long-term degradation of the Antarctic environment and its dependent and associated ecosystems, or the intrinsic natural wilderness values of Antarctica”.

Despite these clear legal provisions, the protection of wilderness values in Antarctica has received, however, very little attention at the more concrete policy making in practice. Up to now, Antarctic Treaty Parties are very reluctant to prohibit an activity or to put it under certain restrictions because of the likelihood of negative impacts on Antarctic wilderness. This is mostly because of the difficulty to apply the concept of wilderness protection in regulating human activities in Antarctica. While some Consultative Parties consider the concept as too “subjective” and difficult to quantify, others think of it as a quite powerful argument for prohibiting or strictly regulating permanent facilities for tourism. Moreover, a lack of clear definition, what is understood as “wilderness” and the absence of concrete guidelines for implementation pose additional hurdles.

Against this background, a present research project at the University of Tilburg (Tilburg Law School, Department of European and International Public Law) investigates to what extent the “wilderness concept” can constitute a basis for regulating tourism and other non-governmental activities in Antarctica. In this framework, wilderness is rather defined by its physical characteristics – wideness (in terms of geographical size), an absence of major human infrastructure and settlement, and a relatively biological intactness – instead of relying on the term “wilderness” per se. To study the subject, particular wilderness regulations and management practices in other wilderness areas in the world will be examined, including examples from Lapland, the Northern Region of Finland, from Spitsbergen, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, as well as from Canada and Alaska, the US. By studying these examples, possible lessons learnt for regulating diversity of tourism activities in Antarctica will be identified in order to improve the factual protection of Antarctic wilderness.

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