In the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands’ annual address to the tourism industry at the IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) meeting in Providence, Richard McKee, GSGSSI Executive Officer summarized the 2013-14 season as incredibly busy and diverse given the 55 cruise ship calls.
But besides the 55 cruise ship visits, carrying 7,024 passengers, South Georgia also saw on-going habitat restoration and heritage projects, various external science projects and Government-led projects to review visitor activities (extended walks), and the medical arrangements on visiting cruise ships.
Richard McKee told the IAATO members that GSGSSI is developing a new method of distributing information to the cruise ship industry and that, from this season, all cruise ships and their Expedition Leaders will receive a memory stick with the key visit documents and other material. This will include an updated copy of the briefing film that has to be shown to visitors before they land on the island.
Richard McKee also told the meeting about other developments at South Georgia, such as the on-going legislative review. He added that GSGSSI will be consulting with stakeholders such as IAATO, when the new Visitor Ordnance has been drafted.
There was also a progress report on the review of existing overland walks, used by visitors to the island and potential new walks. A set of guidelines for all walks has been drafted with information that includes an assessment of the difficulty of the walk using a traffic light indicator system – green, amber and red.
Walk distances and height gain of the route, as well as GPS waypoints and a written description of the route and required minimum staff-to-visitor ratios, will also be included in the guidelines.
The text will be accompanied by photographs of the route. The minimum staff-to-visitor ratio will change according to the grading of the route. For the “straightforward” green routes it will be 1 guide to 20 walkers, with a maximum of 100 visitors participating; amber routes will have 1:15 staff-to-visitor ratio, maximum visitor participation also of 100; and red routes will have a staff-to-visitor ratio of 1:10 with a maximum visitor number of 10. In all cases, walking parties will be expected to have adequate numbers of additional suitably experienced staff to respond to any incident arising.
A small number of closed areas have been created either for safety or environmental reasons. Other requirements will include what safety equipment should be carried and what medical provision should be made, and there are recommendations about what the individual walkers should carry with them including spare clothing and emergency food.
Tour operators will be required to report all accidents (even minor ones) in future. The new documents for the approved walks will be available in time for the next tourist season. Some of the details are published in the annex to the document published on this website in June, see link below.
GSGSSI also encouraged IAATO to develop their own guidelines for other visitor activities such as diving and kayaking (there has been a 50% increase in kayaking over the past 2 seasons).
IAATO were informed of the on-going review of medical arrangements and capabilities on visiting cruise ships. Although the review is not yet complete, GSGSSI highlighted some areas of immediate concern such as ships holding insufficient stocks of some drugs. It is essential that vessel operators review their medical capabilities to ensure that they can operate in a remote ocean region and be self sufficient (extending their supplies as necessary above and beyond their current minimum flag state mandatory requirements).
Richard McKee also updated the IAATO members on various other South Georgia projects including works projects and the establishment of the Government’s Heritage Advisory Panel. The panel will in future advise Government on all heritage project proposals as well as providing specialist advice and recommendations on policy development, restoration strategies and the drafting of new legislation. Updates were also given on the habitat restoration work, comprising the ongoing eradication of reindeer, rodents, and invasive plants.
McKee ended his address by appealing to the tourist industry to assist the safeguarding of the island into the future, asking them to ensure that all biosecurity precautions are being rigorously and effectively implemented because no individual, or company, would want their South Georgia legacy to be an ecologically catastrophic breach. He also thanked IAATO members for all the efforts they make to address this challenge
The full 12 page address was published in June and can be read on the GSGSSI website. (South Georgia Newsletter, June edition)