If you’re looking for a unique travel destination, Antarctica is pretty high on the list. Despite being one of the coldest places on earth, the resilient wildlife makes it a great place for nature-watching. However, Antarctica is considered one of the most pristine landscapes in the world and is used mainly as a center for scientific research. As such, when visiting the South Pole, there are some very strict rules.
* No walking on lichen
When people imagine Antarctica, it’s mostly endless snow with the occasional flash of the black underlying rock. But plants do grow in Antarctica – several types of grass, moss and lichen. As you can imagine, they take a long time to grow, what with the six months of perpetual darkness and temperatures that even in summer can plunge below -20 degrees Celsius. Do not step on them, and stick to the snow instead. That lichen might not look like much, but it is vital to Antarctica’s ecosystem.
* Penguins can find their own way home
Most of the animal-watching rules are pretty straightforward: keep your very specified distance (no seriously, there are specific distances for specific animals), be quiet, and don’t feed them. You’re also not meant to ‘chum’ birds – to attract them over with fish guts. The lichen rules applies here as well, as some bird species like to hide their eggs and young in the grass – so beware or you might get dive-bombed by an angry Skua.
* Leave the dolphins alone
There are also guides about whale and dolphin watching. Most involve the obvious rules, plus a few more on not accidentally trapping the animals in a boat ‘tunnel’. There’s one rule though that’s specific enough to make you think that someone probably did this at some point. Don’t sail a boat into a group of dolphins, just so you can get them to bow ride with you. Dolphins bow-riding may be an awesome sight, but living in Antarctica is hard enough without something harassing you just for their own ‘cool’ experience. And anyway, if you’re lucky enough, both dolphins and whales have been known to bow-ride on their own initiative.
* Help the whale
As you’ve probably deduced, most of the wildlife rules emphasize leaving them alone and having as little human contact as possible. However, there is one time that this doesn’t apply: when a marine animal such as a whale is caught in fishing equipment. While you might not be able to help too much (only experienced crew members on your expedition should attempt to de-tangle any caught animal), you’re obliged to help by taking a picture for your tour operator, and taking notes of your coordinate location, the species, and what the animal became entangled in. Photos will help identify the animal, and in the future, records made may help to reduce these types of incidents.
* No souvenirs
Everyone loves having a memento as a souvenir for their travels. Sometimes, it’s something as simple as a pebble from a beach. However, in Antarctica, taking anything is banned. This includes rocks, feathers, bones, eggs and any kind of biological material including traces of soil. Taking anything man-made is also completely banned, as some might actually be research equipment. If you happen to find anything of scientific interest – a fossil, for example – note the location, take a picture and then leave it there. A scientist can get much more out of that fossil than you can, and you get to keep the photo: it’s a win-win for everyone.