The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has closed its online annual meeting with new actions in support of its mission for safe, environmentally responsible Antarctic travel.
IAATO – which celebrates its 30th year in 2021 – has been carefully monitoring, analyzing and reporting Antarctic tourism trends since its inception as part of its commitment to the effective self-management of guest activities.
Every year at IAATO’s annual meeting, members have open discussions on safety, environmental protection and self-management. Decision-making is supported by recommendations developed by IAATO’s many dedicated committees and working groups throughout the year.
Due to the impacts of COVID-19 on international travel, the 2020 annual meeting was hosted via video conference, allowing members from across the globe to connect and discuss various aspects of IAATO business including operator voting on new members, as well as safe and environmentally responsible travel to Antarctica in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mark van der Hulst, Chair of IAATO’s Executive Committee said: “IAATO’s success in responsibly managing its activities relies on the willingness of its members to act in the interests of Antarctica. Despite having to cancel IAATO’s in-person annual meeting due to the pandemic, it was essential that members were still able to come together to discuss new guidelines and make critical decisions which demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding the region.
“I’d like to thank our members for making our first online annual meeting a success.”
Gina Greer, IAATO Executive Director, said: “An important element in conscientious visitor management is continuous forward-planning based upon the long-term understanding of the industry. The IAATO annual meeting, and other focused gatherings throughout the year, help us as an Association evolve our guidelines and practices to protect Antarctica while enabling responsible visitors to have an enriching, educational experience while having only a minor or transitory impact on this precious region.”
Updates were made to both the IAATO Elephant Seal Watching Guidelines and Understanding Fur Seal Behaviour and Advice for Interactions, strengthening IAATO guidance for visitors based on the most current information regarding wildlife protection, whilst allowing guests to have an enriching experience.
Members also green-lighted enhanced guidelines of the commercial use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), for the 2020-21 season.
IAATO does not allow the recreational use of RPAS, commonly known as a drones, in the coastal areas of Antarctica. Commercial use of RPAS are now only allowed in coastal areas if the activity is covered by the IAATO Operator’s permit/authorization and/or the RPAS pilot has approval from the IAATO Operator with whom they are travelling, regardless of any personal authorization they may have.
IAATO Members who conduct RPAS flights should have Standard Operating Procedures in place that are specific to RPAS operation. Any use of RPAS must be included in the operator’s permit/authorization conditions such as its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
IAATO’s Reducing Waste – Guidelines for Visitors to Antarctica were revised and updated, encouraging visitors to Antarctica to Refuse, Reuse, Reduce and Recycle.
Refuse: Refuse items you don’t need such as bags, bottles, cutlery and cups;
Reuse: Extend the life of your belongings. If you don’t need it, give it away;
Reduce: By consuming less and using reusable items you can help reduce the total amount of waste world-wide;
Recycle: Learn about waste recycling at home and separate accordingly. Look for recycling opportunities when travelling.
When travelling to Antarctica, there are steps visitors can take to reduce the amount of plastic and other waste produced. Waste is removed from Antarctica by ship or air and taken to ports outside the region for disposal, but these may have limited facilities depending on their location.
IAATO operators are working towards reducing single-use plastic in their operations, but guests can support their efforts and help leave no lasting signs of their visit by reducing the number of disposable items they bring, use and dispose of during their expedition.
Ms Greer added: “We all have a responsibility to keep Antarctica pristine. The Reducing Waste – Guidelines for Visitors help guests make responsible decisions prior to traveling which can ultimately support the environment and ease pressure on port facilities dealing with waste.”