Tibet may limit the number of tourists and mountaineers to Mount Qomolangma to protect its fragile ecology, the region's top environmental official has said.
The rising number of tourists and mountaineers makes protecting the environment a tough job, said Zhang Yongze, director of the Tibet Autonomous Region Environmental Protection Bureau. He, however, did not say when the restriction would be imposed.
The summit of the world's highest mountain Mount Everest, also known as Qomolangma, is covered in cloud. [File]
At present, there are no restrictions on the number of tourists to the mountain or the areas they can visit.
And "the garbage left behind by them poses a great threat to the fragile environment of the mountain," said Zhang, who is a former member of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Science. The 39-year-old environmentalist began working on Tibet's ecology in 1998.
More than 40,000 tourists visited the mountain last year. And even though their number was less than 10 percent of those who visited the mountain on the Nepal side in 2000, environmentalists estimate they could have left behind as much as 120 tons of garbage - an average of 3 kg per tourist.
Thanks to the swelling number of tourists on the Nepal side, and the low environmental concern of many of them, ecologists now call the mountain the "highest garbage dump" in the world.
Zhang does not want the northern side of the mountain to suffer the same fate. That is why his bureau has set up two garbage collecting posts near Rongbuk Monastery.
The glaciers on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau are shrinking fast because of global warming. Carbon emissions on the mountain can cause further irreparable damage not only to the glaciers, but also the entire ecological balance.
Precisely because of that, the bureau made it mandatory in 2003 for all vehicles carrying tourists and mountaineers not to venture beyond the Rongbuk Monastery, from where animal-drawn carriages carry them to higher altitudes.
This has a two-fold effect: low carbon emission and employment generation for the local people.
The bureau began monitoring air quality, and the glaciers and snow on the mountain in 2000, Thankfully, the water and air quality there has not suffered any damage.
It plans to launch a garbage collection campaign in the first half of next year. Garbage left behind by mountaineers (and trekkers) at higher altitudes, however, is more difficult to collect, Zhang said.
So one way of guarding the environment against further damage is to restrict the number of tourists and mountaineers, he said.
The bureau has been trying to figure out ways to protect the mountain environment. And as part of one such measure, it asked the nearly 500 participants in the Olympic torch relay on the mountain in May to collect their own garbage.
About 8 tons of garbage was collected in a group cleanup drive on May 1.
Zhang said his bureau is seeking closer cooperation with the local sport administration to make it mandatory for mountaineers to carry back their own garbage.
He has suggested that the region enact legislation to protect the mountain environment, and make the limit on visitors a part of it.
"We have the responsibility to ensure that every drop of water flowing out of Mount Qomolangma into rivers and streams is clean," he said.
Established in 1988, the mountain's environment protection zone covers 34,000 sq km.