From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Antarctic Treaty System (ATS)
Mains level : Impact of climate change on Antarctica
Reports have claimed that compared to last year, 40 per cent more tourists, numbering about 80,000, are expected to visit Antarctica, the least visited continent in the world.
Who regulates tourism in Antarctica?
- All human activities on the continent are regulated by the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed in 1960.
- The treaty entered into force in 1961 and currently has 54 parties. India became a member of this treaty in 1983.
- For the purposes of the treaty system, Antarctica is defined as all of the land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude.
- The treaty sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation, and bans military activity on the continent.
- The treaty was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War. Since September 2004, the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat headquarters has been located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
- Tourism in Antarctica started around the 1950s, starting out with a few hundred visitors annually to over 38,000 per year in 2015-2016.
- Working within the mechanism of this treaty is the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), a body which was founded in 1991 by seven tour operators to promote safe and environmentally responsible travel in Antarctica.
- While IAATO maintains that the tourism conducted under its banner has virtually no environmental impact on the region, the IAATO rules and guidelines are not mandatory or binding.
How has Antarctica been changing?
- In September, a report on oceans released by the IPCC said that between 2006 and 2015, the Antarctic ice sheet lost about 155 billion tonnes of mass on average every year.
- This ice melt from Antarctica likely contributed to sea-level rises.
- The main sources of environmental damage to the continent include planet-wide impacts such as global warming, ozone layer depletion, impacts of fishing and hunting (of whales and seals) and lastly, the impact of visitors which includes scientists and tourists.