China on Friday started regulating tourist trips to Antarctica to protect the fragile polar ecology and help develop Antarctic tourism.
According to a guideline issued by the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), the hunting of wild animals, construction, entry into special conservation areas, collection of soil and rock samples, and bringing in hazardous materials are banned.
Tourists are supposed to take all solid waste away with them when they leave Antarctica or have it burned at designated facilities and take away the remains.
Those who litter should clear up any damage and bear the cost of environmental restoration.
The rule was effective upon its release Friday, the SOA said.
Violators will be blacklisted and restricted from entering Antarctica for one to three years, the guideline noted.
Visitors should have permission from the SOA before going to research stations and need to inform the stations 24 to 72 hours ahead of arrival. The station can cancel or adjust tourist visits according to its schedule, the guideline said.
Individuals and groups are required to gain approval from the SOA before collecting samples from Antarctica for scientific research.
China has witnessed a tourism boom to Antarctica. In 2017, the number of Chinese tourists to the continent grew to 5,300, from barely 100 in 2005. China is now ranked the second tourist source for Antarctica, after the United States.
"The trip changed my outlook on life," wrote one middle-age visitor on his blog. "The gigantic floating glaciers were beyond imagination. Penguins, seals, whales and other marine animals gave birth, hunted and wandered around us at ease. That's the meaning of life."
The snow-white world is fresh to Chinese tourists, though expensive and harsh in environment, and has been attracting a growing number of middle-age Chinese who have the time and money to visit.
Customers above 45 years old take up nearly 60 percent of all tourists to Antarctica, according to Chinese online tour operator Ctrip.com.
Chinese tourists are usually sent to a third country before joining Antarctica trips organized by foreign travel agencies, since China owns none of the more than 100 tourist ships qualified for the Antarctica.
The Great Wall research station, built by China in the 1980s, is the most popular destination for Chinese tourists. It receives more than 2,000 Chinese tourists each summer and has carried out multiple rescues for injured Chinese tourists, said Qin Weijia, an SOA official.
The station, with only 30 staff, comes under great environmental and safety pressure to accommodate the growing tourists, he said.
Antarctic tourism remains controversial. While some environmentalists suggest a complete ban, advocates believe public environmental protection awareness can be raised if tours are well organized.
Last May, at the 40th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, the Chinese government reiterated its commitment to peaceful development and research of Antarctica.
Observers say the new guideline is necessary and proves that Beijing is serious about protecting the environment of Antarctica and promoting sustainable growth in tourism.