Antarctic scientists warned yesterday that a surge in tourists visiting the frozen continent was threatening its fragile environment and called for better protection.
Tourist numbers have exploded from less than 5,000 in 1990 to about 40,000 a year, according to industry figures, and most people go to the fragmented ice-free areas that make up less than 1 per cent of Antarctica. A growing number of research facilities are also being built, along with roads, fuel depots and runways, in the tiny ice-free zones.
It is these areas that contain most of the continent's wildlife and plants, yet they are among the planet's least-protected, said a study led by the Australian government-funded National Environmental Research Programme and the Australian Antarctic Division.
"Many people think that Antarctica is well protected from threats to its biodiversity because it's isolated and no one lives there," said researcher Justine Shaw in the study published in the journal PLoS Biology. "But we show that there are threats to Antarctic biodiversity."