Non-native species can spread to the Arctic through human activities, according to the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), which has published a new “biosecurity guideline” for visitors to the Arctic, which aims to minimize the risk of future travelers introducing non-native species.

The association said that seeds, insects, and microorganisms have always hitched a ride and spread via sea currents, wind, drift-wood, migrating birds or by other natural means. However, research has shown that these natural processes occur only occasionally. The rate at which non-native species are transported by human activities – for example with visitors travelling to the Arctic – is far greater, however. As such, the risk of negative impacts occurring is also higher. In fact, according to research, the introduction of non-native species represents one of the main threats to biodiversity globally due to the potential for serious negative impacts to occur to the natural environment.

By following a few simple steps – outlined in the new ‘biosecurity guideline’ – AECO stated that people who travel to the Arctic can minimize the risk of this activity leading to the introduction of non-native species. AECO’s new biosecurity guidelines provide basic research-based advice for visitors traveling to the Arctic on how to act responsibly when visiting this region. The guideline contains simple-to-follow advice such as “examine and clean clothes, footwear, and bags thoroughly before leaving home” or “if you notice organic matter on boots, clothing or gear, make sure to clean it off”.

The practical advice presented in the new guideline follows research conducted by staff from the University of Tromso (Norway), who in close cooperation with AECO have been testing and evaluating the effectiveness of biosecurity practices employed on Svalbard expedition cruise vessels during a two year trial period. The guidelines-project was financed by the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund.

The guidelines have been made mandatory by all members of the association. This means that a majority of all Arctic expedition cruise operators have already decided to implement the guidelines in their tourism operations. According to Frigg Jorgensen – AECO’s executive director – the new guidelines add yet another specific element to AECO’s array of guidelines for visitors concerned with the conduct of environmentally friendly, safe and considerate behavior when visiting the Arctic.