Is Rise in Tourism Helping Antarctica or Hurting It?

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A dozen tours a year visit Palmer Station to learn about marine biology, ozone depletion, and the effect of global warming on Antarctic ice and fauna. The hope, says environmental officer Joyce Jatko, is that "tourists will become ambassadors for Antarctica." Though the international community is not yet considering a limit on tourist numbers, she adds, "both the Antarctic Treaty nations and the tour operators agree that adopting some site specific guidelines is a good and necessary thing to do."

John Splettstoesser has been coming to Antarctica as a scientist and guide since 1960. "For now," he says, "this is still one of the few places where people can visit a pristine area of the globe without mucking things up." He looks out over the inlet toward a blue and white iceberg. Out past a cruising leopard seal, the distant Marr Glacier calves another berg, the boom echoing across the water. "Even for me, the glamour has never worn off."

David Helvarg's book, Blue Frontier: Saving America's Seas, was published in April 2001.

Antarctic tourist season runs from November into March, when temperatures range a balmy 25° to 40°F (-4° to 4°C), with 23 hours of daylight. Look for companies that belong to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (970-704-1047). Most cruises cost U.S. $3,000 to $20,000.

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