Antarctic tourism booms: environment to suffer?

Lonely Planet has been publishing guides to Antarctica for a while now. It’s now a regular stop on the cruise ship circuit. And it’s a popular destination (at least among my peers in Alaska) for seasonal work. As the icy continent becomes more popular, it is also becoming more accessible, and vice versa.

But the AP reports that a spike in tourism hasn’t come with a corresponding peak in regulation. Thus, some worry that catastrophic accidents could result in environmental damage, and fears are especially high after a passenger ship sank near the coast of the South Shetland islands this week.

Antarctica’s biggest problem is that no one is in charge. Seven countries have made claims on the continent, but no one recognizes or enforces them. Therefore, tourism is largely self-regulated, and we all know what can happen when corporations are left unchecked. I envision raw sewage released (Princess Tours received a large fine and a slap on the wrist for dumping raw sewage into Alaska’s Inside Passage), garbage dumped, and, well, general disregard for anything but profits.

Maybe I’m just a naysayer. But I don’t seem to be alone. What do you think?