TraveLink – Antarctica Pt. 1

Link Parish

I’m a big history buff in general–but not so much when it comes to treaties. If I was, I’d be a huge fan of one of the most successful treaties in the history of mankind. A living and active treaty signed back in 1959 by twelve nations and now embraced by 52.

The Antarctic Treaty.

Yes Virginia, diverse nations can work together peacefully. Antarctica today is the world’s most beautiful lab. At places like the South Pole Neutrino Observatory –affectionately or appropriately know as Ice Cube–people are busy channeling their inner Mark Watneys for the benefit of, well, all mankind.

As an environmental regime, the Treaty is unique – an entire continent, essentially undisturbed, will remain protected because of the commitment and cooperation of the Treaty parties. Everything south of 60°S latitude. It works because it isn’t a solo effort. A lot of different organizations, groups, committees, teams attend the annual meetings. Various aspects of the treaty are worked, changed, policed. One of the many entities supporting the treat is IAATO, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators.

“The world over, it is tourists who tend to be most concerned about the conservation of any pristine landscape and its wildlife”

Australian Wildlife, 2004

Self-regulation generally isn’t. Human nature being what it is, you’d expect IAATO to be rather self serving. They tend to be the opposite, and in reality they have to be. They exist to grow Antarctic tourism. They can’t do that if current operators are damaging the environment. To steal from Alice Cooper, they take that serious.

Still, IAATO membership is voluntary. The Madrid Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty entered into force in 1998, and applies to all human activity including tourism. In theory, a non-IAATO group could ignore the code of conduct and the Protocol in favor of bottom line considerations. But for now at least, the public has little appetite for despoiling such an amazing environment. Let’s hope current attitudes and Antarctic natural resources continue unspoiled.

Ready, steady, go!

As for the tourists themselves, a 2010 study by the University of Queensland found that most Antarctic tourists were against increased tourism activity in Antarctica before their visit, and even more so afterwards. Many of those favoring increased tourism also wanted additional safeguards to protect the environment. Sentiments such as “It is unique” and “I would like to know that it could remain unspoilt” and “I would like for my children and other to enjoy it” were most common. Perhaps there is hope for humanity after all.

“Antarctica is likely to remain a specialized and relatively expensive niche destination offered by a limited number of experienced operators focusing on educational voyages to areas of natural and wilderness value. IAATO vessels also transport dozens of scientists per year to the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic islands.”

Tourism in Antarctica: Finding a Balance for the Future – Nicky McArthur, 2013
Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory winterover video

Me?

I thought once about applying for a Winter Caretaker or “Winterover” position at one of the stations. But those usually go to physically fit people under the age of 40 who haven’t seen John Carpenter’s The Thing. I’m young at heart, prone to fits of fancy, and my viewings of The Thing are approaching triple digits. So not in the cards for me.

The Strong Bad “I likes the cut of your jib” award for 2018 goes to the The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station. Seems they show The Thing every February to herald the arrival of Winter. Nice.

Still, I think to myself, I could be Childs. I totally could. No, my brain logics, we are definitely more of a Palmer or a Blair. Okay fine. Palmer does have the best line in the movie. And there are a lot of really good lines. But I’d never considered Antarctica as a tourist.

Until this year. And we did. And we are. In 4 days.

There are a lot of options to choose from. Posh or physical? The more standard expeditions offer hiking excursions, and scuba diving, camping, kayaking, and mountaineering are common on dive boat tours. No matter what we choose, we’ll find ourselves paired with biologists, ornithologists, geologists, historians, and naturalists eager to share their knowledge and their passion for Antarctica. Most cruises run from Ushuaia, Argentina to the South Shetland islands and Antarctic peninsula west of the Weddell Sea.

Next up: Our choices, prep, trip, and The Drake: lake or shake?

PolarTREC Tour of the Ice Cube – Kate Miller, 2016
Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory auroras video. Because there is no such thing as too much aurora.

UPDATE:

PRAGUE 11 July 2019
Twenty-nine nations today [11 July 2019] reaffirm their commitment to the treaty that protects and preserves Antarctica as a continent for peace and science. Sixty years after the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, the ‘Prague Declaration’ reaffirms strong international commitment to its objectives and purposes, to the Protocol on Environmental Protection and to the prohibition of any activity relating to mineral resources, other than scientific research.

And because Boaty McBoatFace

And because you should not, cannot talk about Antarctica without at least one reference to Shackleton

Good people doing good things: