Washington Post

A fragile system underpins Antarctica's booming tourism

A minke whale emerges near Zodiac boats carrying Linblad Expeditions passengers in Paradise Bay, Antarctica. Foto: Michael S. Nolan/Lindblad Expeditions

The passengers have journeyed a long way to get here, including a likely tumultuous 36-hour trip through the 500-mile-wide Drake Passage, regarded as one of the world's roughest bodies of water. Some board Zodiac rafts for the short ride to shore, where, from a distance, they will observe and photograph nesting penguins. Others will set off in kayaks; if they're lucky, a curious fin whale or orca might pop up to check them out. Still others will snorkel, dive, snowshoe, or even take a submarine or helicopter ride. They will have the landing spot to themselves for a few hours, and thanks to a scheduling and communication system among all vessels in the area, they probably won't see another ship - though the penguins will see a stream of parka-clad intruders all day long.

These travelers are among an elite group who have journeyed to Antarctica, one of the most remote, pristine and inhospitable places on earth. Some come for the intimate wildlife encounters. Some come to see calving glaciers and climate change in action. Some come just to say they have been here. For the expedition teams who guide guests through this fragile, fast-melting ecosystem, the hope is that passengers will go home committed to serving as ambassadors for Antarctica, messengers for the need to arrest climate change and save not just Antarctica, but the rest of the world's wild places...

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