US proposals have been adopted by parties to the Antartic Treaty in order to limit tourism in the region, in an attempt to protect the fragile ecosystem of the continent.(photo, from bbc.co.uk)
During a meeting in the US city of Baltimore, countries with ties to Antarctica accepted to limit the size of cruise ships as well as the number of tourists taken ashore.
A surge in visits and a number of cruise ship accidents, limiting tourism has become an emergency.
From 6 700 in 1992-93, Antarctic visits have risen to over 45 000 last season.
Each of the 28 nations who have signed the Antarctic Treaty, launched in Washington 50 years ago, have to ratify the agreed limits in order to make them legally binding.
Prevent ships with more than 500 passengers from landing in Antarctica and allow a maximum of 100 passengers on shore at any given time is what the restrictions require, but they do not set out an enforcement mechanism or penalties.
Another resolution adopted at the meeting places a mandatory safety code on vessels operating in the region. A third resolution enhances environmental protection for the entire Antarctic ecosystem.
During the 2008-09 season, two cruise ships ran aground. Officials documented several incidents which carried a risk of major contamination.
In November 2007, the sinking of the M/S Explorer cruise ship was the most high-profile accident in the region.
Antarctica is the unique home to several varieties of penguin, an important base for others such as seals, and a vital feeding ground for whales.