‘Need to regulate tourists, researchers in fragile poles’

September 8th, 2008 - 2:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 8 (IANS) A new coordinated set of rules to govern commercial and research activities in both of the highly fragile polar regions is urgently needed, according to experts meeting in Iceland for a UN-affiliated conference.Climate change is causing the ancient ice lid on the Arctic Ocean to disappear fast, creating new opportunities for fishers and resource companies, and opening a potential new, far shorter ocean route between Europe and Asia, with billions of dollars tied up in ice-class ships.

Antarctica, meanwhile, is witnessing a growing parade of tourists (40,000, including tour staff, in 2007), as well as researchers (now about 4,000 in summer occupying 37 permanent stations and numerous field camps) and companies interested in exploiting the biological properties of that continent’s “extremophiles”.

However, “many experts believe this new rush to the polar regions is not manageable within existing international law,” said A.H. Zakri, director of the United Nations University’s Yokohama-based Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS), co-organisers of the conference with Iceland’s University of Akureyri, in partnership with Tilburg University (Netherlands), the Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law, at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland (Finland).

“Pressure on the earth’s unique and highly vulnerable polar areas is mounting quickly and an internationally-agreed set of rules built on new realities appears needed to many observers,” Zakri said.

“In Iceland, leading scholars will detail fast-emerging issues in international law and policy in the polar regions caused by such developments as the opening up of the Northwest Passage.

“They will identify priorities for law-making and research and offer their best advice to decision makers, who clearly need to act even faster than the changing environment.”

Problems predicted for for the Arctic as its ice recedes include overfishing; pollution from ships and offshore extraction of oil and gas; oil spills and invasion of alien species carried by ships’ ballast water, among others, according to conference presenter Tatiana Saksina of the World Wildlife Fund’s International Arctic Programme

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