Selling extinction tourism

The Crystal Serenity, a 300-metre long luxury cruise ship on its journey from Alaska to New York via the Northwest Passage, will be the first vessel of its size and sophistication to traverse this complex and dangerous waterway.

Now unfrozen because of global warming, the iconic Northwest Passage will be able to offer a unique blending of excitement and indulgence to the adventurous 1,070 passengers and the crew of 700. The expedition required meticulous planning. Only about 10 per cent of Canada’s Arctic waters are adequately charted. So, two veteran ice pilots are assisting in navigating the huge ship. The Crystal Serenity is also accompanied by a British icebreaker, the RRS Ernest Shackleton, along with two helicopters to scout for threatening ice conditions.

Professor Michael Byers, a UBC expert on climate change and Arctic sovereignty, noted that the expedition could be the beginning of a new industry called “extinction tourism.”

“I’ve used the term extinction tourism,” explained Dr. Byers, “It’s the nature of the exercise, which is to take a large cruise ship with a very large carbon footprint to the Northwest Passage to take advantage of the melting caused by climate change. In my view, there’s a serious tension involved in that” (Globe and Mail, Aug 20/16).

But “serious tension” has never been a deterrent to commercial opportunity or a discouragement to novel human entertainment. Think of the possibilities for extinction tourism — a new industry with almost unlimited growth potential.

Regular tourism has become so ordinary. “No one goes there any more,” said Yogi Berra in one of his famous oxymorons, “it’s too crowded.” With expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest becoming commonplace, consider the thrill of tracking down and seeing the last Siberian tiger before the species goes extinct — the opportunity has already been missed for several other tiger species. Black rhinos could be added to the ever-growing list of last-to-be-seens. Adventurers from around the world could fly to shrinking habitats to be hosted by poachers extinguishing the last of the last. With about 25% of all plants and animals expected to go extinct by this century’s end, the industry has amazing opportunities for expansion.

The prestige for extinction tourists will increase in direct proportion to the rarity of the species. Populations of songbirds, elephants, lions, primates, amphibians and butterflies are in free-fall. Corals are dying by the hundreds but who is willing to witness the last reef bleaching to an ominous grey and becoming silently lifeless? And under some unknown wave, a last bluefin tuna waits to be unceremoniously caught for the sushi market. Other unique opportunities are waiting with sharks and sea turtles. Wild salmon could easily succumb to the fatal adversities of warming oceans and heating rivers, abetted by the parasites and viruses from salmon farms. The extinction of a species happens only once.

Overwhelming choices are available for those wishing to witness more robust natural spectacles: the largest calving of icebergs from crumbling glaciers, the biggest cascading waterfalls from Greenland’s melting ice cap, the final collapse of West Antarctica’s ice sheet. Extreme weather events should be irresistible for the more adventurous tourists. Expect the unexpected in these death-defying adventures of a lifetime. So don’t miss the opportunity. Contact your extinction tourism representative today.

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