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·  1 Juin 2010 , Barcelona

A research team assesses the impact of tourism on ecosystems in Antarctica

  • The recent ban on the use of heavy fuel oil by cruise ships in polar waters will result in a major change in the area as of this year, say researchers.
  • Each visitor emits around 4.4 tonnes of CO2 on their trip to Antarctica and the environmental impacts also affect the behaviour of the fauna and flora.

The boom in commercial tourism in Antarctica, with nearly 50,000 people visiting each year, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), is threatening the ecosystems of Antarctica. As a result, the abertis foundation is organising a scientific conference with a round-table discussion on "The Effects of Tourism in Antarctica", to be held this afternoon (4.30 p.m.) in Barcelona at the Francisco Godia Foundation (Diputación, 250).

The aim of the conference is to explore the latest developments and research in this area over recent months and to present the data from the research on the "Assessment of the environmental impact of commercial tourism on Antarctic ecosystems", undertaken by the Ministry of Science and Innovation and the abertis foundation, which took place during the Third International Polar Year, from March 2007 to March 2009.

The research team for this study has chosen Deception Island to launch a campaign in 2011 aimed at integrating various indicators of human activity into a long-term monitoring plan. The Integrated Human Activity Monitoring System on Deception Island is one of the topics that will be covered in today's scientific discussion. Coincidentally, this year, Spain holds the presidency of the Antarctic Specially Managed Area of Deception Island (ASMA No. 4), through the Polar Committee, which is home to some of the most visited places in Antarctica.

Over the winter, the research team has worked on obtaining data to monitor the impact of human activity in Antarctica. It has evaluated the effects of trampling of moss (the dominant vegetation in these ecosystems) by groups and has concluded that just 20 footsteps are enough to affect the more waterlogged bryophyte meadows. In addition, waste has been found on some beaches, which serves as an indicator of boat activity, mainly fishing vessels.

A significant change for 2010 has been the ban on the use of heavy fuel oil in polar waters by cruise ships, due to the risk of accidents and oil spills that have difficulty in evaporating. The new regulations will have a major impact on the tourism industry as of next season, as they will affect one third of operators, say the research team. Some operators will opt to replace heavy fuel oil with light fuel oil, but many will stop sailing around Antarctica, thus reducing its future tourism potential.

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