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Wellmeier believes tourists should not be considered separately from the question of overall human impact on the Antarctic environment. He said too often it is research-station personnel who flout the rules.
"We hear horror stories every season," he said. "A group will come ashore from a national program and they’re on their day off ... and they’re breaking the rules, right and left, smoking and getting too close to the animals."
The United States has been criticized on environmental grounds for building a 1,600-kilometer (995-mile) ice road from McMurdo Station to the South Pole on which tractors drag fuel and supplies on sleds. The road provides a more reliable alternative to frequently grounded air services.
Australia-based adventurer Tim Jarvis sees Antarctic tourists not as a problem, but as part of the solution for a frozen continent where the ice is rapidly retreating. If more tourists see its wonders and the impacts of climate change, particularly on the Antarctic Peninsula, Jarvis said, the world will become more inclined to protect the continent.
"It’s a pity we live in a world that’s a little bit overregulated in many respects," he said of the prospect of greater controls on tourism.
Jarvis led a party of six in January and February on a 19-day reenactment of British explorer Ernest Shackleton’s desperate sea and land journey to a South Georgia Island whaling station in the southern Atlantic Ocean in 1916. After his ship was crushed by sea ice, Shackleton left 22 of his crew at on a remote island, then set sail in a lifeboat on an 800-nautical-mile (1,480-kilometer) voyage to get help.
Jarvis’s party encountered 8-meter (26-foot) waves, then repeatedly fell through crevasses as they trekked across the snow-covered mountains of South Georgia. Jarvis suffered frostbite to one of his feet but completed the journey. Three members of his party couldn’t complete the climb because of trench foot, a condition caused by prolonged exposure to cold and wet conditions.
While the journey seems death-defying, it was the product of tremendous planning. Jarvis and his party spent more than a year applying for five permits from various treaty countries accompanied by detailed risk assessments and environmental impact statements. They paid for their own backup boat to rescue them in case anything went wrong.
"My broader message to people is that we all have the potential to do far more in our lives than we feel we’re capable of doing and we should go and explore that ... but do it responsibly," Jarvis said.
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