People Versus Penguins - Should Antarctica Sell Tourism Allowances?

Global Warming Watching is now a spectator sport - tourism to the Arctic and Antarctica is on the rise. Whereas two decades ago just a few thousand people braved the chill to discover the wonders of the frozen poles, last season 40,000 people made the trek to Antarctica alone.

How many tourists is too many tourists?

Antarctica is in a particularly vulnerable position vis-a-vis visitors for a number of reasons. It is not a nation with a human population or the ability to completely control its own fate, which has always meant a mixed bag, environmentally. Last year's sinking of the Liberation showed how vulnerable populations such as penguins are to environmental disruptions. Polar stations put up by a number of different countries, including the U.S., Japan, and Belgium, have become deep-freeze trash sites, with old equipment and frozen garbage mingling with the region's unique flora and fauna. Nobody can really say how many Antarctic tourists is too many, which is why Maastrict University in the Netherlands has come up with a plan.
Like CO2 emissions rights, only for tourists
Maastrict suggests that a maximum number of 'tourist days' should first be set together with input from the IAATO, an umbrella organization of Antarctic tour operators. The maximum will be set higher than the actual number of tourist days currently used. When demand tops the maximum, the marketable visitor rights will then gain in value.

The rights will belong to the Antarctic Treaty System, the series of agreements between 46 nations specifying Antarctica as a scientific preserve and controlling things such as freedom of scientific exploration and the banning of military activities on the icy continent (it entered into force in 1961).

Income from the marketable visitor rights would be used to enforce the tourist limits. Maastrict believes that selling these rights would also ensure that the most profitable (but not necessarily the greenest) forms of tourism would be pursued. The Netherlands Polar Program funded Maastrict's research into how to control tourism in the Antarctic. Via ::Science Daily - photo Pathfinder Linden @ flickr.

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