Should we travel to Antarctica?

By Midge Raymond,

  Filed under: Antarctica, Environment, My Last Continent, Oceans, Penguins

Those who read My Last Continent usually have a strong reaction to the idea of traveling to Antarctica — they either can’t wait to go, or they decide they will never visit, in order to protect the continent.

This is a frequent question I receive at readings and events. My answer, so far, to the question of whether we should travel to Antarctica has been to point out that the animals, especially the penguins, currently face far bigger problems than tourists: climate change is disrupting their food supply and ability to breed, and the fishing industry is decimating the krill and other fishes that Antarctic creatures rely on. I tell people that not eating seafood and helping work toward climate action may be even better for Antarctica than forgoing a visit, especially if you travel there, return, and become an ambassador for the continent. The more people learn about the perils facing Antarctica and the potential losses we could witness there — from melting ice to endangered penguins, and far beyond — the more we can do here up north to help save it.

But this article should make us all reconsider traveling to the last continent. The article notes that in 2014, routine biosecurity surveillance detected non-native invertebrates at an Australian Antarctic station. These creatures have been eradicated, but it highlights the vulnerability of the continent to invasive species. This isn’t a one-time occurrence.

And climate change in Antarctica, as all over the world, is exacerbating all of the issues facing the continent:

As glaciers melt, new areas are exposed, which allows non-Antarctic species greater opportunity to establish and possibly outcompete locals for resources, such as nutrients and precious, ice-free space.

The Conversation

As this article points out, we’ve been lucky so far — before the pandemic, the continent was seeing around 40,000 tourists a year, which is double the number back in the early 2000s. While this is a very high number, and I hope it doesn’t continue to grow, I also hear from a lot of people who say they want to “see the penguins before they disappear.” And this is a very sad reason to travel, especially if the very act of doing so hastens the demise of the species we’re traveling to see.

Scientists will have to deal with the possibility of non-native species in Antarctica no matter how many visitors the continent sees. But all of us who’d love to visit Antarctica should consider staying home for the sake of keeping it safe … or, if we do visit, we should make it a mission to return home to educate and inspire others with all of its beauty, so we can continue to learn how to preserve this beautiful, icy continent and its amazing animals.

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