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Cruise operators look to stamp out invasive species

Biosecurity guidelines in place to help travellers keep the Arctic free of foreign plants and animals
Did everyone remember their biosecurity? (Photo: David Trood/

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The rising number of tourists in the Arctic carries with it an increased risk of non-native species being introduced into the region’s environment. In order to prevent that from happening, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) has now published a “biosecurity guideline” for travellers.

The guidelines contain basic advice like examining and cleaning clothes, footwear, and bags thoroughly before leaving home and making sure that any organic matter on boots, clothing or gear is removed before venturing into the Arctic.

“Invasive species represent a threat to the environment, especially in the polar regions, where the numbers of species are few and conditions are harsh,” said Frigg Jørgensen, the head of AECO. “Invasive species could overwhelm local species and alter food chains.”

Although seeds, insects, and micro-organisms spread naturally via sea currents, wind, driftwood and migrating birds, Jørgensen said increased tourism heightened the risks and that it was important for the tourism industry take responsibility. 

Government involvement needed
At least one tourism expert was pleased that more attention was being paid to the influx of visitors heading north. Alain Grenier, a professor at the University of Quebec, speaking at least year’s inaugural Arctic Circle conference in Reykjavik said governments needed to get involved with protecting the Arctic environment from the effects of tourism.

“Tourism is not regarded as a very important player in the North,” said Grenier.

Most policymakers, he said, worry about ecological damage caused by mining and shipping companies but forget that tourists can also have an impact on the Arctic environment.

Grenier called on governments to increase their monitoring of potential environmental damage near tourist sites.

The advice offered in the AECO guidelines was developed together with the University of Tromsø. Biosecurity practices used on Svalbard expedition cruise vessels were tested and evaluated over a two-year period. The results were used to create mandatory guidelines for all AECO members, who make up most of the cruise operators in the Arctic.

The  guidelines are available here