India in talks with like-minded countries to regulate tourism in Antarctica

New Delhi, May 9 (PTI) India is working with like-minded countries to promote regulated tourism in Antarctica as a steady increase in the number of tourists threatens to harm the fragile ecology in the White Continent.

Discussion on regulating tourism in Antarctica will be on the agenda at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and a meeting of the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) scheduled to be held in Kerala’s Kochi from May 20 to May 30.

“The problem is that tourism in Antarctica is not properly regulated. So this year, there is a discussion on its regulation,” M Ravichandran, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, said in an interaction with PTI editors here.

The Ministry of Earth Sciences is hosting the 46th meeting of the ATCM, the highest governing body for Antarctica, and the 26th CEP meeting.

Ravichandran also hinted at plans to facilitate visits to Indian research stations in Antarctica for the general public.

“Very soon, we will take it up,” he said when asked if a common man can visit Indian research stations in Antarctica.

Highlighting the necessity of regulation, Ravichandran noted the current challenges with unregulated tourism.

India, along with other like-minded countries, is actively working towards promoting regulated tourism in Antarctica, he said.

“India promotes regulated tourism in Antarctica and it should not hypothetically open up everything. This we started and many like-minded countries have also joined together,” Ravichandran said.

Travel to Antarctica costs an estimated Rs 1 crore per person for researchers who travel onboard a ship from Goa to Cape Town in South Africa and from there, to the White Continent.

Thamban Meloth, Director of the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR), said India operates two active research stations in Antarctica — Maitri and Bharati — where scientists from different institutes across the country conduct research throughout the year.

It costs the government anywhere between Rs 150 and Rs 200 crore every year to maintain the research bases in Antarctica.

Ravichandran emphasised that India’s research stations in Antarctica are meticulously maintained, subject to regular inspections to ensure that those are kept in pristine condition.

He emphasised the strict protocols in place for waste management, including the requirement to transport all waste, including human waste, back to the mainland.

Notably, the number of tourists visiting Antarctica has been steadily increasing each year, with several thousands of visitors making the journey annually, transiting through Argentina or Chile.

“There is a major working group in the ATCM and they will discuss and recommend to the Antarctic Treaty to have some criteria that a tourist needs to fulfil when visiting Antarctica,” Ravichandran said.

Tourism began in Antarctica way back in the 1950s with tourists hitching rides on supply ships and the numbers have increased steadily over the years.

For the 2022-23 season, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) reported 32,730 cruise-only visitors, 71,346 landed visitors and 821 deep-field visitors.

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