Guidance for Users of Antarctica





Recommendation XVIII-1, adopted at the Antarctic Treaty Meeting, Kyoto, 1994

Antarctica is the largest wilderness area on earth, unaffected by large scale human activities. Accordingly, this unique and pristine environment has been afforded special protection. Furthermore, it is physically remote, inhospitable, unpredictable and potentially dangerous. All activities in the Antarctic Treaty Area, therefore, should be planned and conducted with both environmental protection and safety in mind.

Activities in the Antarctic are subject to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 and associated legal instruments, referred to collectively as the Antarctic Treaty system. These include the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS' 1972), the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR' 1980) and the Recommendations and other measures adopted by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties under the Antarctic Treaty.

In 1991, the Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty adopted the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. This Protocol sets out environmental principles, procedures and obligations for the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment, and its dependent and associated ecosystems. The Consultative Parties have agreed that, pending its entry into force, as far as possible and in accordance with their legal systems, that the provisions of the Protocol should be applied as appropriate.

The Environmental Protocol designates Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science, and applies to both governmental and non-governmental activities in the Antarctic Treaty Area. The Protocol seeks to ensure that human activities, including tourism, do not have adverse impacts on the Antarctic environment, nor on its scientific and aesthetic values.

The Protocol states, as a matter of principle, that all activities are to be planned and conducted on the basis of information sufficient to evaluate their possible impact on the Antarctic environment and its associated ecosystems, and on the value of Antarctica for the conduct of scientific research. Organisers should be aware that the Environmental Protocol requires that "activities shall be modified, suspended or cancelled if they result in or threaten to result in impacts upon the Antarctic environment or dependent or associated ecosystems."

Those responsible for organising and conducting tourism and non governmental activities must comply fully with national laws and regulations which implement the Antarctic Treaty system, as well as other national laws and regulations implementing international agreements on environmental protection, pollution and safety that relate to the Antarctic Treaty Area. They should also abide by the requirements imposed on organisers and operators under the Protocol on Environmental Protection and its Annexes, in so far as they have not yet been implemented in national law.

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 Key Obligations On Organisers and Operators 

  1. Provide prior notification of, and reports on, their activities to the competent authorities of the appropriate Party or Parties.
  2. Conduct an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of their planned activities.
  3. Provide for effective response to environmental emergencies, especially with regard to marine pollution.
  4. Ensure self-sufficiency and safe operations.
  5. Respect scientific research and the Antarctic environment,including restrictions regarding protected areas, and the protection of flora and fauna.
  6. Prevent the disposal and discharge of prohibited waste.

 Procedures to be followed by Organisers and Operators 

A. When planning to go to the Antarctic - Organisers and operators should:

  1. Notify the competent national authorities of the appropriate Party or Parties of details of their planned activities with sufficient time to enable the Party(ies) to comply with their information exchange obligations under Article VII(5) of the Antarctic Treaty. The information to be provided is listed in Attachment A.
  2. Conduct an environmental assessment in accordance with such procedures as may have been established in national law to give effect to Annex I of the Protocol, including, if appropriate, how potential impacts will be monitored.
  3. Obtain timely permission from the national authorities responsible for any stations they propose to visit.
  4. Provide information to assist in the preparation of: contingency response plans in accordance with Article 15 of the Protocol; waste management plans in accordance with Annex III of the Protocol; and marine pollution contingency plans in accordance with Annex IV of the Protocol.
  5. Ensure that expedition leaders and passengers are aware of the location and special regimes which apply to Specially Protected Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (and on entry into force of the Protocol, Antarctic Specially Protected Areas and Antarctic Specially Managed Areas) and of Historic Sites and Monuments and, in particular, relevant management plans.
  6. Obtain a permit, where required by national law, from the competent national authority of the appropriate Party or Parties, should they have a reason to enter such areas, or a monitoring site (CEMP Site) designated under CCAMLR.
  7. Ensure that activities are fully self-sufficient and do not require assistance from Parties unless arrangements for it have been agreed in advance.
  8. Ensure that they employ experienced and trained personnel, including a sufficient number of guides.
  9. Arrange to use equipment, vehicles, vessels, and aircraft appropriate to Antarctic operations.
  10. Be fully conversant with applicable communications, navigation, air traffic control and emergency procedures.
  11. Obtain the best available maps and hydrographic charts, recognising that many areas are not fully or accurately surveyed.
  12. Consider the question of insurance (subject to requirements of national law).
  13. Design and conduct information and education programmes to ensure that all personnel and visitors are aware of relevant provisions of the Antarctic Treaty system.
  14. Provide visitors with a copy of the Guidance for Visitors to the Antarctic.

B. When in the Antarctic Treaty Area - Organisers and operators should:

  1. Comply with all requirements of the Antarctic Treaty system,and relevant national laws, and ensure that visitors are aware of requirements that are relevant to them.
  2. Reconfirm arrangements to visit stations 24-72 hours before their arrival and ensure that visitors are aware of any conditions or restrictions established by the station.
  3. Ensure that visitors are supervised by a sufficient number of guides who have adequate experience and training in Antarctic conditions and knowledge of the Antarctic Treaty system requirements.
  4. Monitor environmental impacts of their activities, if appropriate, and advise the competent national authorities of the appropriate Party or Parties of any adverse or cumulative impacts resulting from an activity, but which were not foreseen by their environmental impact assessment.
  5. Operate ships, yachts, small boats, aircraft, hovercraft, and all other means of transport safely and according to appropriate procedures, including those set out in the Antarctic Flight Information Manual (AFIM).
  6. Dispose of waste materials in accordance with Annex III and IV of the Protocol. These annexes prohibit, among other things, the discharge of plastics, oil and noxious substances into the Antarctic Treaty Area; regulate the discharge of sewage and food waste; and require the removal of most wastes from the area.
  7. Co-operate fully with observers designated by Consultative Parties to conduct inspections of stations, ships, aircraft and equipment under Article VII of the Antarctic Treaty, and those to be designated under Article 14 of the Environmental Protocol.
  8. Co-operate in monitoring programmes undertaken in accordance with Article 3(2)(d) of the Protocol.
  9. Maintain a careful and complete record of their activities conducted.

C. On completion of the activities:

Within three months of the end of the activity, organisers and operators should report on the conduct of it to the appropriate national authority in accordance with national laws and procedures. Reports should include the name, details and state of registration of each vessel or aircraft used and the name of their captain or commander; actual itinerary; the number of visitors engaged in the activity; places, dates and purposes of landings and the number of visitors landed on each occasion; any meteorological observations made, including those made as part of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Voluntary Observing Ships Scheme; any significant changes in activities and their impacts from those predicted before the visit was conducted; and action taken in case of emergency.

D. Antarctic Treaty System Documents and Information:

Most Antarctic Treaty Parties can provide, through their national contact points, copies of relevant provisions of the Antarctic Treaty system and information about national laws and procedures, including:

  • The Antarctic Treaty (1959)
  • Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (1980)
  • Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (1991)
  • Recommendations and other measures adopted under the Antarctic Treaty
  • Final Reports of Consultative Meetings
  • Handbook of the Antarctic Treaty System (1994)
  • Handbook of the Antarctic Treaty System (in Spanish, 1991)

 Attachment A 

Information to be Provided in Advance Notice

Organisers should provide the following information to the appropriate national authorities in the format requested.

  1. Name, nationality, and contact details of the organiser;
  2. Where relevant, registered name and national registration and type of any vessel or aircraft to be used (including name of the captain or commander, call-sign, radio frequency, INMARSAT number);
  3. Intended itinerary including the date of departure and places to be visited in the Antarctic Treaty Area;
  4. Activities to be undertaken and purpose;
  5. Number and qualifications of crew and accompanying guides and expedition staff;
  6. Estimated number of visitors to be carried;
  7. Carrying capacity of vessel;
  8. Intended use of vessel;
  9. Intended use and type of aircraft;
  10. Number and type of other vessels, including small boats, to be used in the Antarctic Treaty Area;
  11. Information about insurance coverage;
  12. Details of equipment to be used, including for safety purposes,and arrangements for self-sufficiency;
  13. And other matters required by national laws.

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At the 2011 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM XXXIV, Buenos Aires), Treaty Parties adopted new general guidelines for visitors to the Antarctic (Resolution 3).

All visits to Antarctica should be conducted in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty, its Protocol on Environmental Protection, and relevant Measures and Resolutions adopted at Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM). Visits may only occur after prior approval by a relevant national authority or if they have met all the requirements of their national authority.

These Guidelines provide general advice for visiting any location, with the aim of ensuring visits do not have adverse impacts on the Antarctic environment, or on its scientific and aesthetic values. ATCM Site Guidelines for Visitors provide additional site-specific advice for some locations.

Read these Guidelines before you visit Antarctica and plan how to minimise your impact.

If you are part of a guided visitor group, abide by these guidelines, pay attention to your guides, and follow their instructions.

If you have organised your own visit, you are responsible for abiding by these guidelines. You are also responsible for identifying the features of the sites you visit that may be vulnerable to visitor impacts, and for complying with any site-specific requirements, including Site Guidelines, Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) and Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA) management plans, or station visit guidelines. Guidelines for particular activities or risks (such as aircraft use, or avoiding the introduction of non-native species) may also apply. Management plans, a list of historic sites and monuments, and other relevant information can be found at http://www.ats.aq/e/ep_protected.htm. Site Guidelines can be found at http://www.ats.aq/e/ats_other_siteguidelines.htm

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 Protect Antarctic Wildlife  

The taking of, or harmful interference with, Antarctic wildlife is prohibited except in accordance with a permit.


  • When in the vicinity of wildlife, walk slowly and carefully and keep noise to a minimum.
  • Maintain an appropriate distance from wildlife. While in many cases a greater distance may be appropriate, in general don’t approach closer than 5m. Abide by any guidance on distances in site specific guidelines.
  • Observe wildlife behaviour. If wildlife changes its behaviour stop moving, or slowly increase your distance.
  • Animals are particularly sensitive to disturbance when they are breeding (including nesting) or moulting. Stay outside the margins of a colony and observe from a distance.
  • Every situation is different. Consider the topography and the individual circumstances of the site, as these may have an impact on the vulnerability of wildlife to disturbance.
  • Always give animals the right of way and do not block their access routes to the sea.
  • Do not feed wildlife or leave food or scraps lying around.
  • Do not use guns or explosives.


  • Vegetation, including mosses and lichens, is fragile and very slow growing. Do not damage the vegetation by walking, driving or landing on any moss beds or lichen covered rocks.
  • When travelling on foot, stay on established tracks whenever possible to minimise disturbance or damage to the soil and vegetated surfaces. Where a track does not exist, take the most direct route and avoid vegetation, fragile terrain, scree slopes, and wildlife. 

Introduction of non-native species

  • Do not introduce any plants or animals into the Antarctic.
  • In order to prevent the introduction of non-native species and disease, carefully wash boots and clean all equipment including clothes, bags, tripods, tents and walking sticks before bringing them to Antarctica. Pay particular attention to boot treads, velcro fastenings and pockets which could contain soil or seeds. Vehicles and aircraft should also be cleaned.
  • The transfer of species and disease between locations in Antarctica is also a concern. Ensure all clothing and equipment is cleaned before moving between sites.

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 Respect Protected Areas  

 Activities in Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs) or Antarctic Specially Managed Areas (ASMAs) must comply with the provisions of the relevant Management Plan. 


Many historic sites and monuments (HSMs) have been formally designated and protected.


Specially Managed and Specially Protected Areas

  • A permit from a relevant national authority is required for entry into any ASPA. Carry the permit and obey any permit conditions at all times while visiting an ASPA.
  • Check the locations and boundaries of ASPAs and ASMAs in advance. Refer to the provisions of the Management Plan and abide by any restrictions regarding the conduct of activities in or near these areas.

 Historic Sites and Monuments and Other Structures 

  • Historic huts and structures can in some cases be used for tourist, recreational and educational visits. Visitors should not use them for other purposes except in emergency circumstances.
  • Do not interfere with, deface or vandalise any historic site, monument, or artefact, or other building or emergency refuge (whether occupied or unoccupied).
  • If you come across an item that may be of historic value that authorities may not be aware of, do not disturb it. Notify your expedition leader or national authorities.
  • Before entering any historic structure, clean your boots of snow and grit and remove snow and water from clothes, as these can cause damage to structures or artefacts.
  • Take care not to tread on any artefacts which may be obscured by snow when moving around historic sites.


 Respect Scientific Research  

Do not interfere with scientific research, facilities or equipment.

  • Obtain permission before visiting Antarctic stations.
  • Reconfirm scheduled visits no less than 24-72 hours before arriving.
  • Comply with any site specific rules when visiting Antarctic stations.
  • Do not interfere with or remove scientific equipment or markers, and do not disturb experimental study sites, field camps or stored supplies.

 Keep Antarctica Pristine  

Antarctica remains relatively pristine. It is the largest wilderness area on earth. Please leave no trace of your visit.


  • Do not deposit any litter or garbage on land nor discard it into the sea.
  • At stations or camps smoke only at designated areas, to avoid litter and risk of fire to structures. Collect ash and litter for disposal outside Antarctica. 
  • Ensure that wastes are managed in accordance with Annexes III and IV of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.
  • Ensure that all equipment and rubbish is secured at all times in such a way as to prevent dispersal into the environment through high winds or wildlife foraging.

 Wilderness Values

  • Do not disturb or pollute lakes, streams, rivers or other water bodies (e.g. by walking, washing yourself or your equipment, throwing stones, etc.)
  • Do not paint or engrave names or other graffiti on any man-made or natural surface in Antarctica.
  • Do not take souvenirs, whether man-made, biological or geological items, including feathers, bones, eggs, vegetation, soil, rocks, meteorites or fossils.
  • Place tents and equipment on snow or at previously used campsites where possible.


 Be Safe  

Be prepared for severe and changeable weather. Ensure that your equipment and clothing meet Antarctic standards. Remember that the Antarctic environment is inhospitable, unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

 Safety Precautions / Preparations

  • Know your capabilities, the dangers posed by the Antarctic environment, and act accordingly. Plan activities with safety in mind at all times.
  • Keep a safe distance from dangerous wildlife like fur seals, both on land and at sea. Keep at least 15m away, where practicable.
  • If you are travelling in a group, act on the advice and instructions of your leaders. Do not stray from your group.
  • Do not walk onto glaciers or large snow fields without proper equipment and experience. There is a real danger of falling into hidden crevasses.
  • Do not expect a rescue service. Self-sufficiency is increased and risks reduced by sound planning, quality equipment, and trained personnel.
  • Do not enter emergency refuges (except in emergencies). If you use equipment or food from a refuge, inform the nearest research station or national authority once the emergency is over.
  • Respect any smoking restrictions. Use of combustion style lanterns and naked flames in or around historic structures should be avoided. Take great care to safeguard against the danger of fire. This is a real hazard in the dry environment of Antarctica.

 Landing and Transport Requirements  

Act in Antarctica in such a way so as to minimise potential impacts on the environment, wildlife and associated ecosystems, or the conduct of scientific research.


  • Do not use aircraft, vessels, small boats, hovercraft or other means of transport in ways that disturb wildlife, either at sea or on land.
  • Avoid overflying concentrations of birds and mammals. Follow the advice in Resolution 2 (2004) Guidelines for the operation of aircraft near concentrations of birds in Antarctica, available from www.ats.aq/devAS/info_measures_list.aspx?lang=e.
  • Refilling of fuel tanks for small boats should take place in a way that ensures any spills can be contained, for example onboard a vessel.
  • Small boats must be free of any soil, plants, or animals and must be checked for the presence of any soil, plants, or animals prior to the commencement of any ship-to-shore operations.
  • Small boats must at all times regulate their course and speed so as to minimise disturbance to wildlife and to avoid any collisions with wildlife.


  • Only one ship may visit a site at any one time.
  • Vessels with more than 500 passengers shall not make landings in Antarctica.

 Landing of Passengers from Vessels

  • A maximum of 100 passengers may be ashore from a vessel at any one time, unless site specific advice requires fewer passengers.
  • During landings from vessels, maintain a 1:20 guide to passenger ratio at all sites, unless site specific advice requires more guides.


                * A ship is defined as a vessel which carries more than 12 passengers

Download Guidelines for Visitors to Antarctica

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