A key issue at this year's Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting is Antarctica's booming tourism industry.
Antarctica's rugged nature attracts more than 30,000 tourists each year, 100 times more than when Antarctica's tourism industry first began 40 years ago. While good for local economies, this surge in tourism also poses a number of challenges.
Chen Danhong, director of the international division at National Bureau of Oceanography, said: "Most of Antarctica has never been exposed to human activity. But the areas that are more accessible to tourists are now being exposed to a number of foreign species, including microscopic life forms that live on people's clothing. In addition, the presence of tourists disturbs the habitat of Antarctica's plants and animals."
Polar scientists are teaming up with tour companies and government officials to try to minimize the impact of tourism on Antarctica's fragile environment.
Chen, for example, has proposed issuing new legislation which would require all tourist companies to be assessed on the environmental impact of their activities.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) already helps tour groups conduct environmentally sustainable tours. Founded in 1991, IAATO promotes safe and responsible travel to the Antarctic.
According to Kelly Falkner, polar programs director of National Science Foundation, every polar station of the US puts a cap on the number of passengers who can go ashore, as well as restricts staff-to-passenger ratios. In that way, private-sector travel to the world's coldest region can remain sustainable and meaningful.