How Antarctica is keeping its cool

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica. Photo: EYOS Expeditions

How Antarctica is keeping its cool

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica. Photo: EYOS Expeditions

Journeys

How Antarctica is keeping its cool

More and more superyachts are heading towards the South Pole – but who is keeping tabs on its growing appeal?

By Dominique Afacan | 30 July 2019

It’s no secret that Antarctica’s popularity is on the rise among the superyacht community. Shipyards and designers are turning their attention to rugged explorer yachts built for increasingly intrepid customers and experts like EYOS Expeditions and Pelorus are being called upon more and more to accompany adventurous owners as they travel to this remote region. In fact, over the last five years, the number of vessels doing landings here has increased by 52%.

But popularity often comes at a cost, and many worry that the region is in danger of overcrowding and unregulated tourism that could lead to environmental damage. Much of Antarctica’s appeal, after all, lies in its pristine, unspoilt landscape and abundant wildlife. Antarctica’s lack of official government makes the region particularly vulnerable. Visitors are subject to their own country’s laws while they are there, meaning there are no uniform rules that apply across the board.

How Antarctica is keeping its cool

Photo: Christopher Scholey & EYOS Expeditions

How Antarctica is keeping its cool

Photo: Christopher Scholey & EYOS Expeditions

The good news is that – despite the region having no official government – there are official bodies working hard to protect Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty was signed by 12 nations back in 1959, and there are now 54 countries who have opted-in. Environmental preservation has always been one of their central themes and one of their missions is to ‘commit themselves to the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment and designate Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.’

There is more. The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has been described as the region’s ‘tourist police,’ founded back in 1991 to promote environmentally-safe travel to the region. When it was originally founded, it consisted of just seven private tour operators, but today there are over 100, all working together to help promote environmentally responsible travel to Antarctica.

How Antarctica is keeping its cool

Photo: Christopher Scholey & EYOS Expeditions

How Antarctica is keeping its cool

Photo: Christopher Scholey & EYOS Expeditions

“IAATO has had plenty of warning that growth is coming, and we have made good use of that knowledge,” says Lisa Kelley, IAATO’s head of operations. “Over the past five years, we have built, tested, and refined a whole suite of tools to ensure we are managing for current and projected levels of growth.”

Many of IAATO’s guidelines concern tourist activity on the ground in the region. Drones, for example, are now much more strictly controlled and there are strict rules on how close visitors can get to wildlife and where they can walk on land. “New measures given the green-light at this year’s meeting in Cape Town include stringent restrictions on the commercial use of drones and guidelines that will arm visitors to the polar regions with responsible solutions for reducing their waste and plastic footprint,” says Kelley.

How Antarctica is keeping its cool

Photo: EYOS Expeditions

How Antarctica is keeping its cool

Photo: EYOS Expeditions

Those guidelines are shared with visiting yachts, as well as companies like EYOS, who often lead these expeditions on superyachts. “All of our guides take the IAATO exam every year, and several of our team members are sitting on their committees,” says Ben Lyons, the CEO at EYOS Expeditions. For many newer Antarctic activities, such as submarine dives, EYOS actually helps draft the guidelines side by side with IAATO. “All of our field staff fully support IAATO’s principals and are extremely familiar with the regulations. They always have a field operations manual from IAATO with them on board the yachts.”

For visitors to the region, these restrictions are anything but a hindrance. Lyons, who has accompanied many superyachts to Antarctica believes the area touches visitors so deeply that many of them come away wanting desperately to help preserve it.

How Antarctica is keeping its cool

Photo: Christopher Scholey & EYOS Expeditions

How Antarctica is keeping its cool

Photo: Christopher Scholey & EYOS Expeditions

“I think almost all guests going to Antarctica are aware of the issues,” he says. “What they come away with is a greater appreciation for what can change and what harm can be done. When you see penguins or whales surfacing nearby your Zodiac, you understand and feel more directly the impact that climate change or ocean plastic pollution can have.”

The powerful draw of the Antarctic is perhaps one of the motivations for the increasing number of explorer yachts with an environmentally leaning. Take REV, a mammoth expedition vessel with science labs, plastic collection concepts, and a conference centre on board. Yes, the owner will sail on the yacht with his family and friends, but he will also host scientists and environmentalists who will carry out scientific research in an effort to preserve the oceans. There are more yachts of this kind, both out on the ocean or in build, often driven by an owner with a deep passion for the environment. And there are few places that inspire passion more than Antarctica.

How Antarctica is keeping its cool

Photo: Reeve Jolliffe & EYOS Expeditions

How Antarctica is keeping its cool

Photo: Reeve Jolliffe & EYOS Expeditions

“Antarctica is a profoundly moving, even emotional place,” says Lyons. “I’ve never seen a destination that affects people as much. And seeing this ecosystem essentially untouched by man is very powerful. Undoubtedly, it inspires people to want to preserve it.”

Get a taste of the superyachting good life at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show from 30 October to 3 November 2019. Get your tickets here.

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