Side Note
China's Great Wall Antarctic research base.

China's Great Wall Antarctic research base.

China’s Antarctic research stations are being ruined by tourists

Antarctic tourism is raking in tons of cash for travel agencies in China. The only problem is that tourists are touching the penguins, bothering the scientists, and generally overstaying their welcome.

According to reporting by the South China Morning Post, China’s three Antarctic research bases are receiving 12 to 100 tourists from their country up to four times a week.

The strain from tourism has gotten so severe that earlier this year, the Chinese government had to explicitly ban tourists from littering, hunting, collecting, or touching animals and plants on the continent. Yet even if tourists follow its country’s new laws about respecting the environment, it’s likely that the cumulative effects of tourism will take its toll on the frozen continent.

While the tourists are only supposed to stay for an hour at a time, poor weather conditions (which are common enough at the bottom of the earth) have left the tourists marooned for hours at a time. Scientists on the continent studying the Antarctic ecosystems and climate have had to pause their work, dip into their food supplies, and feed the tourists lunch.

“They had to stay until the weather got better …But there wasn’t enough space for so many people,” Wang Pei, a scientist from China stationed in Antarctica, told the Post. “And it was noon, so everybody was starving… the food supply at Antarctic research stations is tight – we normally unload food once a year.”

Of 5,000 of the approximately 37,000 tourists that travelled to Antarctica last year were from China—second only to the U.S. And these trips aren’t cheap, averaging just under $10,000 USD, but soaring as high as $100,000 USD.