Welcome to coolgeography.co.uk
Back to main Back to GCSE Back to Tourism
Impact of tourism on extreme environments
Think about it

Antarctica is the World’s southern-most continent.  It is a land made up of mainly ice (99% of the continent is covered in ice sheet) and is uninhabited aside from a few thousand scientific researchers.  It is a land mass with mountains and volcanoes beneath and protruding above the ice, but it also has lots of sea ice which changes in size and distribution throughout the year.  The lowest ever temperatures recorded on Earth have been recorded here, at Vostok, Antarctica, where it dropped to nearly -89.2 °C.


These temperatures make it a truly EXTREME environment, very dangerous for humans to visit and live.  In addition, for many months during the year there is 24 hours of darkness or 24 hours of light as the Earth orbits the sun.  You can also witness the Aurora Australis or southern lights here, and a huge range of wildlife from emperor penguins, seals to Whales.

The environment is also incredibly sensitive.  It can take many hundreds of years for rubbish to decompose because of the extremely low temperatures, and the food chain is also delicate because most of the marine life rely upon Krill as their primary source of food.


Read the text opposite and fill in the gaps on this gap fill exercise

Find out more from the British Antarctic Survey

Research all aspects of Antarctica at coolantarctica!

Antarctica is becoming an increasingly popular destination for tourists.  Indeed, tourist numbers have gone from 9,000 in 1992-93 to 46,000 in 2007-8 with over 100 companies being involved Visitors are mainly from rich nations (39% American, 15% British) and tend to fly to New Zealand or Chile or Argentina and set sail from there.

Few visitors go on the ice as it is too hazardous, however, there are some very accessible sites and boats tend to stop there preferentially.  These are Honey pot sites and the animals get disturbed from their usual feeding and breeding routines.  In addition, many ships have run aground and had accidents and oil spills are an increasing hazard.  Waste from tourist boats is also a problem, and by law ships are required to discharge waste well away from the edges of Antarctica.

The Antarctic is protected in many ways, but people are concerned that tourism and its increasing numbers could become unsustainable. 

The IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) is an organisation which rules the companies and tries to be environmentally friendly.  They regulate the boat companies and try to ensure a sustainable future for the ice continent.

Indeed, Boats are limited to 500 passengers which should reduce the impact of tourism.

An Antarctic tourist boat

  • In addition, Tourism has to follow the rules of the Antarctic treaty, signed in 1961, where many countries promised to demilitarize Antarctica, to establish it as a zone free of nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste, and to ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only;
  • to promote international scientific cooperation in Antarctica;
  • To set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty.

 Visitors cannot visit SSSIs or Sites of Special Scientific Interest which often contain vulnerable wildlife, again reducing the impact of tourism. There are hundreds of these areas around the Antarctic continent, but they are small in scale and protect the most vulnerable areas e.g. penguin breeding grounds.

 Permits must also be obtained to go, and these permits include sections on waste management, risk management and how the applicant will minimise their Environmental Impact whilst in Antarctica. Find out how to get a permit from the UK here.

The Antarctic Act of 1994 is a UK act which supports the Antarctic Treaty of 1961 and makes environmental damage in Antarctica by any British citizen punishable by law.


The US has its own permit system, formed in the Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978, protects native mammals, birds, and plants and their ecosystems. The law applies to all U.S. citizens and makes it unlawful to;

  • take native mammals or birds
  • engage in harmful interference
  • enter specially designated areas
  • introduce species to Antarctica
  • introduce substances designated as pollutants
  • discharge designated pollutants
  • import certain Antarctic items into the USA

Violation of this can result in a 1 year jail sentence or $11,000 fine!

Click here for larger version

 For a clearer copy of the graph click here

Creative Commons LicenseCoolgeography.co.uk by Rob Gamesby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Contact - robert.gamesby@st-marys.newcastle.sch.uk