China officially released a regulation on activities in the Antarctic to protect the continent’s fragile environment.
The Environmental Protection Regulation on Activities on Antarctica, released by the State Oceanic Administration, was drafted amid an increase of Chinese activities in the Antarctic, especially the rapid increase of Chinese tourists, Chen Danhong, an official from the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, which was overseen by the State Oceanic Administration, said at a news conference on Feb 9.
“The number of Chinese tourists to the Antarctic has been increasing rapidly. In 2004 and 2005, there were very few Chinese tourists to the continent. Last year, however, China had come only second in tourist numbers with 5,289,” she said.
She also noted that the Antarctic is currently visited by 40,000 to 50,000 tourists a year, five to six times the number of scientific researchers.
The increase in Chinese tourists has aroused concern about possible environmental damage to the continent and whether their visits have affected China’s scientific research. The tourist rush occurs in the summer in the Antarctic, the key time for scientific research. Many Chinese tourists think it’s a must to visit the country’s research stations, she explained.
According to the regulation, organizers of and participants in activities in the Antarctic should take necessary measures to protect the local environmental and ecological system and make sure their activities result in minimal environmental and ecological damage. They should pay for any cost needed to clean up their pollution and restore the environment, and repair any damage they cause to historical monuments in the southernmost continent.
Chinese citizens are banned from conducting activities that may cause special environmental consequences, including bringing radioactive waste, poisonous substances or alien species, or removing certain specimens from the continent. Scientific research and activities to obtain specimens and living species for educational purposes must get government approval, it says.
Tourists who want to visit China’s research stations in the Antarctic will have to inform these stations 24 to 72 hours before they arrive. The stations could coordinate with the organizers of the visit to change the time or cancel the visit in emergency situations, the regulation says.
Any application for activities in the region must be accompanied with an environmental impact assessment. Violators will be blacklisted and restricted from entering Antarctica for one to three years, it notes.
Chen said the blacklist will be shared with relevant Chinese government bodies and international organizations. Her administration will draft a detailed regulation to restrict the number of tourists visiting China’s research stations, and specify when they could visit.
But it will be difficult to impose sanctions with the regulation because of the absence of a special law on the Antarctic. A law is needed to provide a legal basis to take coercive measures and impose administrative punishment, she said.
She also said her administration has been researching the draft of the law for about 10 years and has collected abundant materials, though discussions with legislators about the specific clauses are still needed.