Antarctic tourism has been growing at a rapid pace for well over a decade, with more than 40,000 tourists visiting Antarctica in the 2007/2008 season.
However with the increased shipping traffic come potential dangers. The most serious of these is the potential for oil spills and the release of other toxic chemicals into the sensitive environment if ships sink.
Leaking barrels at abandoned Chilean Antarctic base, 1992.
The sinking of the tourist vessel MV Explorer in November 2007 and the grounding of the Ocean Nova in February 2009 are two recent examples. Ships routinely carry fuel and toxic substances on board that could be released when they sink or run aground. Polar waters are less able to recover from spills due to short seasons for growth and reproduction, harsh temperatures, and limited or at times no sunlight. Strict regulations need to be put in place covering all vessels operating in the Southern Ocean, including fishing and whaling vessels, and Antarctic Treaty members need to develop a comprehensive system for regulating tourism in Antarctica.