Term Paper: International Regulation of Tourism

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Lake Vostok has since become one of the few causes of disagreement between the international college of nations with interests in Antarctica; the Lake Vostok problems will be outlined later in this report. It is notable, however, even before the controversy and scientific quandaries that have vexed scientists and nations the past few years. Not since 1858, when Africa explore John Speke first stood on the banks of Lake Victoria, the headwaters of the Nile, has a formerly undiscovered body of water of such magnitude been added to the map of the globe. (In the case of Lake Victoria, however, it was only a 'discovery' to Europeans and Americans and those of other continents; Africans had known of it all along. The same cannot be said of uninhabited Antarctica.)

Initially, the Russians began drilling through the ice at Vostok, but drilling was temporarily stopped because scientists feared contamination of the lake and the effects it would have on any possible life in the ice-covered lake. Lake Vostok is the size of Lake Ontario and is simply the largest of a number of similar lakes discovered since 1996, some of which have water temperatures as high as 77 degrees F. No one is sure how water can remain unfrozen under that thick mantle of ice.

While the Russians want to continue drilling, to date there is an agreement not to break through to the lake waters. So far, the Antarctic Treaty, signed by 43 nations, has protected Antarctica from mineral and industrial exploitation as well, but it also must withstand significant assaults from commercial fishing interests and those who want to expand ecotourism dramatically.

Another Antarctic discovery of some great potential magnitude, but less controversy, is the stony meteorite found in the Transantarctic Mountains that "may hold evidence of life on Mars."

Antarctica is a wilderness like no other on earth, an further offers scientists unique views of how the Earth works through active volcanoes, fast-flowing glaciers, and unstable ice sheets, not to mention the Katabatic winds rolling down the polar plateau at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour. Indeed, some of the world's most violent squalls are found there, along with mountainous seas battering the icy coastlines. Despite the sterile void of the interior (with temperatures often plunging to minus 120 degrees F.), the surrounding oceans are among the most biologically diverse and richest in the world; fishing rights have also become a cause of disagreement. While that dispute involving Japan (also to be further explicated later in this report) has no direct effect on tourism, it can have fallout that would affect tourism. First, of course, commercial fishing can leave behind detritus both in the ocean and on land that would be unattractive to tourism. Second, a dispute of any proportion regarding one Antarctica issue could easily create rancor that creates problems in other facets of the agreements concerning the continent.

To some, these concerns might seem far-fetched. But the fact is that even in 2001, there were more than 250 flights during the southern poplar summer bringing in personnel and materials to build bases, mainly scientific (but a harbinger of tourist installations?), from a number of nations to Antarctica. The United States is building a 153-million-dollar base for its Antarctic Program; France and Italy are spending 25 million dollars to set up an outpost called Concordia, an "international research facility at a place called Dome C -- an even higher, colder, and more remote part of the polar plateau."

Cruise ships were, in 2001, already bringing more than 12,000 tourists a year to Antarctica, with more growth predicted. This figure is about five times the number who made the journey two decades ago. Considering the inhospitable nature of the region and the late discovery of it, this is startling in itself. Following is a chronology of major Antarctic events:

1773: Captain James Cook becomes first person to cross south of the Antarctic Circle.

1820-22: 320,000 fur seals are killed in South Shetlands. Hunt collapses soon afterward.

1904: First commercial whaling operation in the Antarctic kills its first whale.

1911: Roald Amundsen leads first expedition to reach South Pole.

1912-13: Antarctic whaling fleet kills and processes 10,760 whales.

1959: Antarctic Treaty signed; comes into effect two years later.

1962: "Nukey-Poo," first and only nuclear power plant in Antarctica, begins providing power to U.S. McMurdo Station.

1965: Lindblad Travel begins tourist expeditions to Antarctica.

1972: After years of fires, leakages and shutdowns, "Nukey-Poo" deactivated.

1982: International Whaling Commission (IWC) votes for indefinite global moratorium on commercial whaling.

1985: Scientists from British Antarctic Survey announce discovery of "ozone hole" above Antarctica.

1985-86: IWC commercial whaling moratorium comes into effect.

1987: Greenpeace establishes first-ever permanent non-governmental base on Antarctica.

1991: Antarctic Treaty nations sign environmental Protocol in Madrid, Spain.

1994: IWC adopts Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

1995: Section of Larsen Ice Shelf breaks away; James Ross Island becomes circumnavigable for the first time ever.

A few years ago, anyone who was interested could even find out how cold it is at the Pole on any given day by accessing the Web site www.spole.gov.Several attempts to reach that U.S. government Web site on several different days resulted in error messages. A Google search produced several alternatives; the best of these offers not only personal glimpses from a working resident of the U.S. Amundson-Scott South Pole Station installation, but access to NOAA weather Web cam photos and lots of weather information in general, as well as other interesting -- not to mention touristy -- information. The Web site is found at http://www.southpolestation.com/.

Interestingly, the Web site refers to Jerry Rubin, the publisher of Lonely Planet guidebooks. A look at the Lonely Planet Web site reveals that the company has had a print guidebook out since September 2000. It asks "Ready for the ultimate cool adventure? Whether you want to trek in the footsteps of Shackleton and Scott or cruise among the icebergs, this is the definitive guide to carry with you to the loneliest of lands."

The book includes:

Special chapters written by experts on science, history and ecology.

Travel options, from tours to flyovers to private yacht expeditions.

Detailed coverage of islands, science bases and historic Hut Point.

In-depth descriptions of the gateway cities -- Cape Town, Christchurch, Hobart, Punta Arenas, Stanley and Ushuaia.

Considering this admittedly innovative "early adopter" Internet business approach to tourism in Antarctica, it comes as less surprise that the U.S. Antarctica Program, costing $200 million per year and operated by the National Science Foundation, is headquartered at McMurdo Station -- MacTown to residents.

The largest settlement on the continent, it has a summertime population of about 1,1000, an airport, ATMs, speed-limit signs and a shuttle bus to New Zealand's Scott Base, which is only two miles away.

MacTown is on the coast, spreading over a rocky promontory on Ross Island, which has been the portal to exploring the continent since Robert Scott first attempted to reach the South Pole in 1902. During summer, the ice melts for a few weeks, making the streets into mud holes. It has been described as similar to an Alaskan mining camp, the campus of a technical college, or a military base; in fact, it is much like all, especially the military base with the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard providing much of the transportation and logistical support available on the continent.

Despite the mud, it is not only the scientific opportunities, but the panorama of the Royal Society Range that helps draw summer support personnel, outnumbering the scientists by three to one, in a sort of "working tourist" capacity. Many work as janitors; one young woman who left Juneau, Alaska to be a summer janitor at McMurdo, said she didn't care if it was only cleaning toilets, because those toilets were in Antarctica.

A journalist who left a desirable rent-controlled apartment in Greenwich Village, New York, to become editor of McMurdo's summer newspaper (circulation 700), notes that life in Antarctica holds another attraction, one bound to appeal to ecotourists: it is an almost classless society. "Everybody dresses in the same red government-issue parkas. It is impossible to tell who is rich and who is poor, who is a world-famous scientist and who is the janitor. Down here it doesn't matter."

That might be a natural outgrowth of the fact that Antarctica is the only place on earth no one owns. It is the Earth's fifth largest continent, but has been set aside as a "natural reserve devoted to peace and science since the signing of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty."

About 65% of all the people on Earth are represented by the treaty's 45 signatory nations.

Protection was extended to the surrounding waters in 1982, which can be a positive step for ecotourism, although it is also causing the problems with Japanese fishing… [END OF PREVIEW]

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