For a one-of-a-kind ecotourism experience, it’s hard to beat what Antarctica offers. As a center for scientific research and one of the most (if not the most) pristine landscapes in the world, it is important to preserve Antarctica and keep it the way it is. As such, there are several rules and Antarctica laws to keep in mind for your trip.
1. Don’t feed or touch the penguins
Yes, penguins are adorable, and the experience of waddling alongside them is one to boast about. But in Antarctica there are specific distances that you have to keep for specific animals, and you should never, ever feed the penguins. Also, trying to attract them over to you with fish guts is something very frowned upon.
And this is something very uncommon, but not unheard of. Sometimes, penguins can accidentally ‘launch’ themselves onto your boat. Contrary to what you might think, they’re not ‘lost’ and they are pretty good at finding their way back to the sea. So don’t touch or try to ‘help’ it! Despite their adorable exterior, an angry penguin is not what you want on your hands.
2. Leave the dolphins alone
There are rules too when it comes to watching penguins, and there’s one that’s specific enough to make you think that someone probably did it at some point. You cannot sail a boat into a pod of dolphins in an attempt to get them to bow ride with you. We’ve all seen videos of dolphins bow-riding and it’s a really cool sight, but life in Antarctica is already hard enough without humans harassing you. Dolphins are known to bow-ride on their own initiative, so you don’t have to try too hard. You just have to be lucky!
3. Help an animal caught in fishing equipment
Most Antarctica laws when it comes to wildlife mostly involve keeping your distance and leaving them alone. But there’s one exception: when you see a marine animal caught in fishing equipment. That doesn’t mean you plunge yourself into the icy waters, as only experienced crew on your expedition team should attempt to detangle the stuck animal, but you’re obliged to help by taking a picture for your tour operator. You should also take note of your location, coordinates, what species the animal is and what it is caught in.
4. Don’t step on the plants
Most people imagine Antarctica as just rocks and ice, but there are actually plants in Antarctica! They are mostly moss, grass and lichen. With temperatures well below freezing point and only six months of daylight, these plants take a very long time to grow. When in Antarctica, only walk on the snow, and leave the moss, grass and lichen alone. They might not look like much, but they’re very important to Antarctica’s ecosystem!
5. Don’t pack a pest
Antarctica’s ecosystem is pretty fragile. And even though mankind tries to protect it, many non-native species have still made its way to Antarctica. They are mostly plants and fungi, but there are also 72 invertebrates, eight mammals, three bird species, and even worms. To make sure more does not make its way onto the continent, there are very strict hygiene rules to abide by in Antarctica. Everything you bring with you must be thoroughly washed, decontaminated, and inspected every day. Velcro is apparently a prime spot for plant spores and seeds to hide!
6. No military activity
This may not be entirely relevant to you, an eco-conscious traveller, but no military activity is allowed to take place on the continent. This also means no explosive devices, no guns and no hunting (obviously). Any military personnel and equipment can only be used for scientific research or peaceful purposes, such as delivering supplies.
7. No bringing home ‘souvenirs’
We all love bringing home mementos and souvenirs, be it for our own keepsake or as a gift to a loved one. This can be a bottle of sand or a seashell from the beach. However, in Antarctica, you are not allowed to take anything. This means no snow, no rocks, no soil or any other biological material. You also cannot disturb or take anything man made. Basically, treat everything you see like they are monuments, and don’t touch them.
8. Pick up your trash
As you can tell by now, most Antarctica laws revolve around not polluting or disturbing the environment. So it should be obvious that no littering is allowed. And if you’re a smoker, you have to collect every bit of ash you create. In Antarctica, you can only smoke in designated areas and you have to carry all your ash until you leave Antarctica and can safely dispose of it, along with all other trash. Leaving your rubbish or ash in the sea is a giant no-no!
9. Don’t wander off
Antarctica is a safe place as long as you stay with your expedition team. You should always remember that Antarctica is a huge continent with an extremely harsh environment. There are also a finite number of people and resources at any one time. This means that rescuing one missing person is more trouble than it’s worth, and many times pretty much impossible. This is not really a ‘law’ per se, but just don’t wander off and go adventuring on your own, and you should have one of the most memorable and safest experiences of your life.