Visiting Antarctica and The IAATO

In 1991, seven independent tour companies operating in Antarctica took it upon themselves to create an organization known as IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators). We recognized the potential environmental impacts that a growing tourist industry could have in Antarctica. The purpose of IAATO is to insure safe, responsible, environmentally sensitive tourism in the fragile ecosystem of Antarctica. It is a self-regulating organization within the private sector travel industry that is related to Antarctica, and hasstrict bylaws and codes of conduct. IAATO now has nearly 100 members and associates. 

The number of tourists visiting Antarctica each year has grown from about 300 in the early 1970s to more than 20,000 today. The vast majority of tourists are ship borne passengers who are carried by organizers who are members of IAATO, or voluntarily abide by the IAATO guidelines, and this has been very successful in keeping visitor impacts to a minimum in this remote and wild region of the world, as well as promoting a real sense of Antarctic conservation.

IAATO’s focus on protection, management, and education has been organized to promote a greater understanding for the Antarctic wilderness, which will help to leave it as pristine and as majestic for future generations as it is today.  Members of IAATO must adhere to extensive procedures and guidelines that regulate numbers of people ashore; staff-to-passenger ratios; site-specific rules; activity guidelines; wildlife watching; pre- and post-visit activity reporting. IAATO membership also requires passenger, crew and staff briefings; previous Antarctic experience for tour staff; contingency and emergency medical evacuation plans; and more.  The members include ship operators, land-based operators, ship agents, travel agents, travel companies that charter ships and airplanes from existing operators, and one government office.

One very important aspect common to many members of IAATO is that each season, various Antarctic tour vessels transport 100 or more researchers and station personnel from many national Antarctic programs. IAATO members also transport equipment and supplies, including materials for stations, research camps and other projects. Many of our members make their vessels available to national Antarctic programs for charter work both before and after the normal tourist season.

In 1994, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties adopted the codes of conduct from the bylaws of IAATO as Recommendation XVIII-I: Guidance for Visitors to the Antarctic. 

That Guidance is as follows:

Keep Antarctica Pristine:

Do not disturb or pollute lakes or streams. Do not dispose of litter or garbage from ships or on land. Do not bring non-native plants or animals into Antarctica. Wash your boots before and after each landing. Do not collect souvenirs or remove anything-including rocks, feathers, bones, eggs, fossils, and parts or contents of buildings. Leave no evidence of your visit ashore. Do not paint or engrave anything on rocks or buildings.

Protect Antarctic wildlife:

Do not use aircraft, vessels, small boats, or other means of transport in any ways that disturb wildlife-either at sea or on land. Be alert to the presence of wildlife-and monitor its reaction to you. Take special care around animals that are breeding or molting. Be aware of the periphery of a rookery-and remain outside of it. Never harass wildlife. It is illegal and can be dangerous. Do not feed, touch, or handle birds or seals, or approach them in ways that cause them to alter their behavior. Do not damage plants. Avoid stepping, walking, driving, or landing on extensive moss beds or lichen-covered scree slopes. 

Respect Protected Areas:

Know the locations of specially protected areas-and take note of any restrictions regarding them. Do not disturb, remove, or damage anything associated with a historic site or monument. Historic huts may be entered only when accompanied by a proper authority.

Respect Scientific Research:

Do not interfere with scientific research, facilities, or equipment. Take care not to disturb study sites, field camps, or supplies. Obtain permission before visiting science and support facilities.

Be Safe:

Be prepared for severe and changeable weather-and insure that your equipment and clothing meet Antarctic standards. Take special care at the Zodiac platform. Accept help getting in and out of the boats. Expect slippery, uneven terrain. Respect any smoking restrictions, particularly around buildings. Do not walk onto glaciers or large snow fields without the proper equipment and experience. Take note and heed the advice of your leaders. Yield right of way to wildlife. Keep your distance. Keep noise to a minimum around wildlife. Do not stray from your group, or wander off alone. 

Following these guidelines should insure a safe and enjoyable Antarctic experience for all visitors, resident scientists and other Antarctic personnel, as well as the wildlife. Keeping this in mind, it will be possible for Antarctic visitors to become the new ambassadors to the Great White Continent.

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