Pollution threatens Antarctic tourist boom

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The Independent Online
It seems like the ultimate get-away-from-the-20th-centuryholiday. Five million square miles of snow-covered virgin land of Antarctica and the South Pole, with its penguins, seals and dramatic landscapes is becoming a tourist Mecca.

But the dreaded P-word of modern life - pollution - has encroached into even this remote enclave. High-powered scientific stations have left behind abandoned huts, oil drums, computers and the everyday rubbish of contemporary life.

Dr Bernard Stonehouse, a polar biologist with the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge, and author of the first travel book to the area, Antarctica: the Traveller's Guide, says that tourists to the distant south have been quick to point out the debris.

"From that has grown the concept that Antarctica needs cleaning up - and it is being.

"Many nations are working there scientifically and have left abandoned huts, piles of drums and debris. There have been aircraft, tractors, trailers, dog teams, cooks, builders and plumbers working out there.

"They quite simply haven't bothered to tidy up in the past, but now they are being made to bother. Tourists and visitors have been complaining that they haven't paid money to see a rubbish dump," he added.

In the past decade, the number of tourists to the area has doubled to 10,000. Intrepid visitors pay up to pounds 6,000 to cruise around frozen land masses in the Antarctic summer and brave temperatures of -10C.

Abercrombie & Kent, who organise tours to the area on the ship Explorer, say their trips are designed to be environmentally friendly and they are not aware of any complaints of pollution from their clients.

The British Antarctic Survey said its scientists were extremely careful not to leave any debris behind at its exploration centres.

"To us, Antarctica is a fantastic, unique laboratory and we do everything we can to keep it clean," said Dr John Shears, environmental officer with BAS.