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Sustainable, Responsible Polar Tourism with AECO & IAATO

4 min read

Quark Expeditions is a proud and longtime member of AECO and IAATO, two organizations that share our dedication to promote and commit to environmentally responsible tourism. We strive to be responsible travelers in the pristine Arctic and Antarctica. These two organizations offer guidelines and resources to help us to ensure the footprints polar tourists leave behind are minimal.

What is AECO?

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) was founded in 2003, to represent the views and interests of more than 40 tour operators and service providers in the northern Polar Region.

Quark Expeditions guests kayak in Ilulissat Icefjord in West Greenland.

AECO is based in Norway and strives to ensure that Arctic tourism is conducted safely. It encourages polar travelers to be considerate and respectful of local cultures and the natural environment. Guests who travel with AECO operators are provided with information about the organization and its visitor guidelines, including how to respectfully interact with the wildlife and people who call the Arctic their home.

What is IAATO?

Founded in 1991, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) is a member organization of more than 100 private tour operators who have joined together to promote safe travel in the southern Polar Region.

Gentoo penguin spotted in front of passengers on the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo: David Merron

The association, based in Rhode Island, has adopted numerous guidelines designed to mitigate polar tourism's potential environmental impacts. It encourages travelers to consider themselves “ambassadors for the continent”, the largest wilderness area on the planet, and to spread the word about the importance of Antarctic conservation.

“IAATO works on behalf of its member companies – and, in turn, you, their passengers – to ensure tourism is safe and environmentally responsible, an important ingredient in any conservation effort,” adds Dr. Kim Crosbie, the association's Executive Director.

Guidelines for Visiting the Polar Regions

It's natural to want to have physical souvenirs of your visit, wherever you may be. But in the Polar Regions, opportunities for such treasures are limited, and should remain so.

AECO guidelines for Arctic visitors offer basic principles such as leaving nothing behind and taking nothing. Plants and stones, bones and driftwood should be left alone.

The best way to remain safe and enjoy your adventure is to listen to your trained Expedition Leaders at all times, especially when encountering wildlife. Also, be understanding and respectful of local cultures and residents – as the guideline says, “Do not expect to find everything as it is at home – you have left home to find things different.”

Passengers Zodiac cruise near a whale in the Antarctic peninsula

IAATO guidelines for Antarctic visitors are very similar. Wildlife and protected areas must be respected. Research facilities may not be visited without permission, and activities taking place at these facilities must not be disturbed.

This isn't all to say you can't be an active participant in your vacation. For example, you are obviously welcome to observe arctic and Antarctic wildlife from a safe distance. And, with the right camera gear, you can capture some amazing memories!

Responsible Polar Tourism with Quark Expeditions

Quark Expeditions joined AECO and IAATO and supports their respective mandates because our guests are thoughtful, engaged and curious travelers. The associations and their guidelines help ensure we reduce our environmental impact on the astounding regions we visit.

Quark passengers zodiac cruising in Spitsbergen.

Our commitment to responsible tourism is ongoing, and includes carbon-offsetting, burning clean fuel on our vessels, and using eco-friendly laundry chemicals and cabin amenities. We are active participants in many sustainability initiatives, joining with our guests in efforts that result in giving time, energy and money to important charities like Polar Bears International and Penguin Watch, among others.

We look forward to helping you plan and enjoy the environmentally responsible vacation of a lifetime – contact us today!

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