At today's conference in Baltimore commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, the Obama administration is expected to propose amending the pact by imposing mandatory limits on the size of cruise ships to the continent and the number of passengers they let ashore, the Associated Press reports.
Currently, all restrictions on tourism are voluntary for Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty says that the continent cannot be used for military purposes and guarantees freedom for scientific investigations. The accord has 28 member states and 19 observer countries and organizations.
According to documents received by the Associated Press, the new proposal would require countries ensure that tour operators would disallow cruise ships with more than 500 passengers from landing, restrict landings to one vessel at a time per site and limit passengers on shore to 100 at a time, with a minimum of one guide for every 20 tourists while ashore.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators says visits to Antarctica have risen from 6,700 during 1992-1993 to 45,213 in 2008 to 2009.