Antarctica can be described as amazingly beautiful, peaceful and unspoiled -- like no other place on Earth -- but it is also the single most isolated, cold and unforgiving region on the planet. Characterized by picturesque landscapes of snow and ice, Antarctica has a history that only extends as far back as the early 1800s, when explorers first sighted its coastline, and even today, there isn't much there, other than research stations and the personnel who operate them. The research conducted on the continent is important and includes studies in geology, global warming and climate change, as well as seasonal ozone depletion.
Internationally diverse, Antarctica has no cities, no indigenous people and no government to speak of, but people worldwide travel to the continent to work and live at fewer than 75 research facilities, less than half of which operate year-round. The Antarctic Treaty, signed by a select group of nations in 1959, established the continent as a peaceful research zone and provided nations with a universal set of rules to follow. These guidelines are still in effect today and have contributed to Antarctica's pristine and peaceful environment.
Although commercial endeavors are of little importance, Antarctica has limited fishing off the coast and a growing tourism industry, which primarily consists of visitors arriving by ship. The Antarctic Peninsula hosts approximately 38,000 cruise passengers each year, who anxiously brave the harsh conditions and unpredictable weather for a chance to see towering sculptures of ice and a unique display of wildlife that cannot be duplicated anywhere in the world. Antarctica is truly the last frontier, a place that has been carefully studied and well-preserved for generations to come.