by Gavin Haines from The Telegraph, July 7, 2017
It is regarded as the last pristine environment on Earth; a frozen continent that’s home to some of the world’s hardiest wildlife and most dramatic landscapes.
But Antarctica is under threat. Scientists claim climate change, invasive species and tourism are destabilising the polar environment in the region, where temperatures have risen by as much as 3C over the last three decades.
It is to that backdrop that Natural World Safaris has added a new tour to its catalogue: a one-day trip to Antarctica aboard a private jet. The cost? A snip at £7,750.
Departing South Africa, guests embarking on the Antarctica trip will spend just 12 hours on the icy continent, where they will be served a “surreal” champagne lunch on the ice. They will also get to explore grottos, view Adelie penguins and relax at a luxury camp, which has its own sauna.
The £7,750 price tag does not include flights to Cape Town, from where the tour departs. So expect the bill to top £8,000 per person if you're coming from the UK.
That’s a pricey trip by anyone’s estimations, but conservationists are not quibbling about the cost. They are concerned that such tours pose a threat to a region already being impacted by climate change and tourism.
“The Earth’s polar regions have become the bellwether of climate change. So there’s a bitter irony in seeing tourism firms planning to send cruise ships to the melting Arctic and airplanes over Antarctica, both of which add to the carbon problem that’s causing climate change in the first place,” said a spokesperson for Greenpeace.
“These are some of the most spectacular corners of our planet and will keep awakening a sense of wonder and adventure in many of us. If we want to preserve them intact for future generations, mass tourism propelled by fossil fuels is just not an option.”
Natural World Safaris defended its decision to launch a one-day Antarctica excursion, telling Telegraph Travel that each trip to the continent would be carbon neutral and would adhere to strict ecological guidelines. The company also said it would give guests the opportunity to fly to Antarctica on a pre-existing flight, with scientists, rather than taking a private jet.
“These trips are run in line with the Antarctic Treaty and operate within a zero impact policy,” said a spokesperson for the company.
“All human waste is transported out of Antarctica and disposed of in South Africa, the majority of the camp is powered by solar, and the operator we work with is an accredited Carbon Neutral Company offsetting all emissions through a selection of carbon projects for the flights to Antarctica and the logistics once there.”
Carbon offsetting is used by many companies to reduce their ecological footprint, but critics have questioned the virtues of the practice, arguing it is best to prevent carbon from entering the atmosphere in the first place.
It might be tempting to suggest that one-day trips to Antarctica are something of a box ticking exercise; an opportunity for those who can afford it to tell people they have been to Antarctica. However, Natural World Safaris claims its whistlestop tours, which depart in December and January, are for time-pushed travellers who want to learn more about the fragile polar environment.
“This is one of those incredible trips that would feature on everyone’s bucket list,” said a spokesperson.
“It allows clients pushed for time to travel to the seventh continent and develop an appreciation for the landscape, wildlife and wider conservation issues.”