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Tourism: India discussing with others to start Antarctica’s regulated tours

Tourism: India discussing with others to start Antarctica’s regulated tours

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: Tourists may soon visit the Indian research stations in Antarctica.

This could become possible if India’s plans to open the frozen continent for regulated tourism succeed.

At present, 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, the media reported on Thursday.

These and related issues will be discussed at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and a meeting of the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP), being held in Kochi, Kerala, from May 20 to May 30.

“Tourism in Antarctica is not properly regulated. So this year, there is a discussion on its regulation,” M Ravichandran, Secretary, Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, was quoted as saying.

The ministry is hosting the 46th meeting of the ATCM, the highest governing body for Antarctica, and the 26th CEP meeting.
He 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 tourists could visit the Indian research facilities in Antarctica.
“India promotes regulated tourism in Antarctica. But 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 emphasized that these stations are meticulously maintained, and subject to regular inspections to ensure their upkeep.
He emphasized the strict protocols in place for waste management, including the requirement to transport all waste, including human waste, back to the mainland.

The number of tourists visiting Antarctica has been steadily increasing each year. Several thousands of visitors make the journey annually, transiting through Argentina or Chile.

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

Tourism began in Antarctica 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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