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IAATO trials 17 new Antarctica site guidelines, adds whale protections

The latest measures show IAATO’s commitment to provide enriching, educational travel while respecting and protecting Antarctica, Executive Director Gina Greer said
The 2023/24 Antarctica season will see 17 new trial site guidelines and enhanced geofenced time areas in the Gerlache Strait and South Shetland Islands to protect whales.

These are among the actions agreed by members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators to support safe and environmentally responsible travel to the region.

'The latest measures are an example of IAATO’s continued commitment to operating at the highest standards to provide enriching, educational experiences to visitors while respecting and protecting the region we care so deeply about,' IAATO Executive Director Gina Greer said.

The new and enhanced measures support IAATO’s five-year strategy, 'Embracing Our Role as Stewards of Antarctica,' approved by members at the association's annual meeting held in Hamburg in April.

The program has four mainstays: operators as stewards, purposeful support of research, deliberate resource management plan and persistent proactive measures focused on sustainability.

Whale protections

IAATO operators in 2019 unanimously adopted mandatory procedures to mitigate strike risks in whale-rich areas, introducing geofenced time areas in Gerlache Strait and adjacent waters from Jan. 1 to May 30 and Marta Passage entering Crystal Sound from Feb. 1 to May 30.

In 2021, IAATO operators strengthened the measures by committing to a mandatory 10-knot speed restriction for vessels operating in IAATO geofenced time areas, and whale watching and whale avoidance mitigation training by all bridge teams while operating in any areas where whales are routinely seen.

Data-driven decisions

During the 2022/23 Antarctic season, IAATO supported a baseline collection of data on a voluntary basis related to cetacean and pinniped sightings. Through this process, it was identified that whales were consistently present in the first half of the season in the Gerlache Strait where there was also vessel activity and whales had a significant presence around the South Shetland Islands throughout the season.

As a result, members this year agreed to trial an extension to the Gerlache Strait geofenced time area and added a South Shetland Islands geofenced time area.

IAATO's Antarctic season will commence on Sept. 30 with the first vessel visiting the sub-Antarctic region.