Southern sojourn: On the 46th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in India

India must continue to oppose unregulated tourism in Antarctica 

Updated - May 25, 2024 08:00 am IST

Published - May 25, 2024 12:10 am IST

Delegates from over 60 countries have convened in Kochi, Kerala to attend the 46th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) that is expected to go on until the month end. An annual affair, this is in essence a meeting of the ‘Consultative Parties,’ or the 29 countries that have a right to vote on affairs concerning the management of the continent. Other attendees are countries with a non-voting ‘observer’ status as well as independent experts and invited functionaries. One of the interesting points on the agenda this time relates to tourism. A group of ‘like-minded’ countries, that includes India, pressed for a proposal to introduce a regulatory framework governing tourism in the continent. Unlike other continents, the Antarctica does not have its own indigenous population.

With millions of hectares of untrammelled ice and its geographical isolation, it is not a tourist’s everyday jamboree or the elite’s regular private-jet getaway. This makes it irresistibly alluring. In this day and age, where every navigable square inch of land is up for fleeting, visual consumption, the Antarctica is the only continent that can be described as wild, its secrets buried under kilometres-thick blankets of ice. Given that the creation, capture and marketing of the ‘exotic’ experience is an industry that guarantees exponential returns, the Antarctica is now the ‘wild south’ that the wealthy traveller aspires to. A recent joint study by universities in Tasmania, the U.K. and Australia said that the number of tourists rose from 8,000 in 1993 to 1,05,000 in 2022. This does not include all the scientific expeditions and the long-term presence of scientific personnel at research stations maintained by different countries. Reports now suggest that the number of tourists exceeds scientists. To be sure, concerns about rising tourists have been expressed since 1966 at the consultative meets, with the attendant worries that more ships and more people mean more man-made pollutants and rising instances of accidents and disasters that lead to upsetting the unique biodiversity of the region. This urge to preserve the pristine purity of the continent — estimated to be the size of the United States and Mexico combined — however conceals the underlying anxiety of all nations. Will, despite the treaty’s commitment to disallowing territorial claims, unexpected future circumstances effect a change in terms? Will the presence of more people from one country influence terms in their favour? Though India’s Antarctica-bound tourists are minimal, this could very well change in the days to come, thanks to growing lop-sided prosperity. While a proponent of the proposal, India must be wary of any deal that could undercut future opportunities from tourism.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.