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Expedition cruises - and what you should know before boarding one

<p dir="ltr"><em>It’s crucial to do your research before embarking on any new adventure, and New-Zealand based travel writer Sue Halliwell has drawn on her 15 years of cruise ship expedition experience to unpack such a trip, and the importance of coming prepared.</em></p> <p dir="ltr">I once took two New York socialites shoe shopping in the small New Zealand port of Napier. </p> <p dir="ltr">Both women had boarded our expedition cruise around New Zealand and its sub-Antarctic islands at Auckland with high heeled shoes as their only footwear, and by Napier it was evident that ‘elegant and elevated’ was actually a liability on nature walks, beach landings and a pitchy ocean.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the sole female on the ship’s expedition team, I was assigned the job of getting them adequately shod, discovering as I did that they also lacked warm gear and rain jackets. In fact, our A-listers appeared to know little about the nature of an expedition cruise on any level. While watching sperm whales off the South Island coast some days later, one asked me if, “these creatures live all their lives in the ocean?” adding “surely they come to land to give birth?” She looked incredulous when I set her straight, a reminder that appreciation of the natural world is a journey we each take at our own pace.</p> <p dir="ltr">They were the wives of two even higher profile Americans who were also aboard, and I’m picking the lads booked the cruise. First in line for every off-ship excursion and kitted out in top notch outdoor gear, these guys were onto it. But, somewhere the inter-spouse memo had gone astray, their other halves arriving better prepared for a traditional floating city, casino and cabaret cruise experience. </p> <p dir="ltr">They won’t be the first or last to make that mistake. So, what should our society gals have understood about an expedition cruise, and how might they have adjusted their expectations and packing lists had the memo actually reached them? </p> <p dir="ltr">Also known as an adventure or eco cruise, the Travel Industry Dictionary defines an expedition cruise as “typically aboard a smaller vessel, with an emphasis on the natural habitat of exotic destinations and responsible tourism. The term also implies a relatively expensive cruise with onboard experts in the ecology of the destination and a certain level of rigour, such as in Antarctic cruises.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Translated, that means you’ll be discovering coasts less travelled and their unique wildlife, landscapes and people. The ship will be small enough to nudge close to shore yet sizeable enough to handle mighty oceans. It will likely carry fewer than 200 passengers, and close to that number of crew, ensuring up-market service, dining and accommodation. </p> <p dir="ltr">Expedition cruise companies place great emphasis on responsible and sustainable travel, and protecting the natural and cultural environments visited. Indeed, many team with organisations such as National Geographic to present high quality environmental expertise, education and experiences, and actively support conservation and social projects in their target locations. </p> <p dir="ltr">As you would expect of sumptuous travel to remote destinations with the rarest of nature and best of guides, expedition cruises don’t come cheap. These are bucket list holidays at the apex of cruising, so unless money is no object, it pays to make the most of their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.</p> <p dir="ltr">Full participation in an expedition cruise involves taking all the off-ship excursions offered, although how actively you participate is up to you. With relatively low passenger numbers, most onshore excursions divide into manageable groups ranging in capability from fitness fanatics to snail’s pacers. Each group is shuttled between ship and shore – or around the coast – on inflatable zodiacs, and accompanied by experienced expedition team members to ensure their members remain safe and informed. </p> <p dir="ltr">These off-ship activities will be trip highlights, and you make the most of them by being prepared. As our American ladies learned, that includes being suitably dressed. </p> <p dir="ltr">Appropriate attire differs by destination, but the general rule is comfortable and activity-capable. Your gear doesn’t need to be expensive, but it does need to do the job - especially in cold climates like Antarctica or the Arctic, where not dressing appropriately can put you and others at risk. Check the packing list on your cruise website or brochure, and if there isn’t one, ask. Likewise find out whether large but essential items such as polar jackets and gumboots are supplied, to free up valuable suitcase space.</p> <p dir="ltr">Throw in a few dressier outfits for dinner, although bow ties and sequins went down with the Titanic. Nowadays, the expedition cruise dining dress code tends toward smart casual, and the after-dinner entertainment is equally low key. Don’t get me wrong, there will be plenty of evening fun for those wanting it; however, after a day of wild and wonder-filled activity, followed by drinks and dinner, most passengers prefer rocking to sleep with the waves to rocking around the clock. </p> <p dir="ltr">Unless you are a New York socialite for whom dancing the night away in designer get-up may be the reason for booking a cruise. However, our ladies were different people now and about to teach me an important lesson. </p> <p dir="ltr">Until I met them, I held to expedition cruises being the preserve of nature lovers, photography nuts, eco-travellers, science boffins and adventure freaks; you were made for them or you weren’t. But, as the cruise neared its end and the New Yorkers and I dined together in wild sub-Antarctic weather, a particularly impressive southern ocean swell upended both their wine glasses into my lap. As happens occasionally on a polar ocean cruise, the captain directed us to our cabins to ride out the storm, and as we lurched from the dining room one of my dinner companions drawled to the other, “Hey, I’d much rather go upstairs and watch those albatrosses skim these waves!” </p> <p dir="ltr">The expedition cruise had done its job. Wherever these ladies sat on the nature appreciation continuum on boarding the ship, they were much further along it now. I was impressed by their efforts to make the most of a situation they obviously hadn’t expected and, who knows, they might even deliberately book an expedition cruise for their next vacation. </p> <p dir="ltr">At least they now have the gear.</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>Images: John Cardiner, Doug Gould [supplied, used with permission]</em></p>

International Travel

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Two dead in Antarctic cruising accident

<p dir="ltr">Two passengers on a cruise in Antarctica have died after their small boat overturned near the shore.</p> <p dir="ltr">The passengers were among six on a Zodiac boat excursion near Elephant Island on November 15, when the vessel overturned near the shore.</p> <p dir="ltr">Quark Expeditions, the operator of the World Explorer cruise ship the passengers were travelling on, confirmed the news in a statement several days later.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are deeply saddened to confirm that there has been a tragic accident during a zodiac excursion from the ship World Explorer, chartered by Quark Expeditions, near Elephant Island in the Antarctic on November 15,” the company said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Quark Expeditions said the weather conditions were calm, with “light winds” and a “smooth sea”, and that the accident seemed to have been caused by a breaking wave.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The other four passengers and two staff are recovering under the care and observation of our doctors and medical staff on board,” they added.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The ship is currently returning back to port.”</p> <p dir="ltr">With the company currently investigating the incident further, they confirmed that they are in close contact with the next of kin.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our priority right now is supporting them, our passengers and crew while we investigate further,” they said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We will continue to work with, and offer our assistance to, those involved during this difficult time, including full cooperation with the relevant authorities.”</p> <p><span id="docs-internal-guid-2b47f30f-7fff-7c6d-432e-648a5438f582"></span></p> <p dir="ltr"><em>Image: @quarkexpeditions (Instagram)</em></p>

Cruising

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We studied how the Antarctic ice sheet advanced and retreated over 10,000 years. It holds warnings for the future

<p>Alarming stories from Antarctica are now more frequent than ever; the ice surface is <a href="https://theconversation.com/warmer-summers-threaten-antarcticas-giant-ice-shelves-because-of-the-lakes-they-create-180989" target="_blank" rel="noopener">melting</a>, floating ice shelves are <a href="https://theconversation.com/conger-ice-shelf-has-collapsed-what-you-need-to-know-according-to-experts-180077" target="_blank" rel="noopener">collapsing</a> and glaciers are <a href="https://theconversation.com/ice-world-antarcticas-riskiest-glacier-is-under-assault-from-below-and-losing-its-grip-178828" target="_blank" rel="noopener">flowing faster</a> into the ocean.</p> <p>Antarctica will be the largest source of future sea-level rise. Yet scientists <a href="https://theconversation.com/scientists-still-dont-know-how-far-melting-in-antarctica-will-go-or-the-sea-level-rise-it-will-unleash-166677" target="_blank" rel="noopener">don’t know</a> exactly how this melting will unfold as the climate warms.</p> <p>Our <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s43017-022-00309-5" target="_blank" rel="noopener">latest research</a> looks at how the Antarctic ice sheet advanced and retreated over the past 10,000 years. It holds stark warnings, and possibly some hope, for the future.</p> <h2>The current imbalance</h2> <p>Future sea-level rise presents one of the most significant challenges of climate change, with economic, environmental and societal impacts expected for coastal communities around the globe.</p> <p>While it seems like a distant issue, the changes in Antarctica may soon be felt on our doorsteps, in the form of rising sea levels.</p> <p>Antarctica is home to the world’s largest single mass of ice: the Antarctic ice sheet. This body of glacier ice is several kilometres thick, nestled on top of solid land. It covers entire mountain ranges beneath it.</p> <p>The ice sheet “<a href="https://vimeo.com/133626869" target="_blank" rel="noopener">flows</a>” over the land from the Antarctic interior and towards the surrounding ocean. As a whole it remains a solid mass, but its shape slowly deforms as the ice crystals move around.</p> <p>While the ice sheet flows outward, snowfall from above replenishes it. This cycle is supposed to keep the system in balance, wherein balance is achieved when the ice sheet is gaining the same amount of ice as it’s losing to the ocean each year.</p> <p>However, <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/ice-sheets/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">satellites</a> keeping watch from above show the ice sheet is currently not in balance. Over the past 40 years, it has lost more ice than it has gained. The result has been global rising sea levels.</p> <p>But these historical observations span only four decades, limiting our understanding of how the ice sheet responds to climate change over much longer periods.</p> <p>We wanted to look further back in time – before satellites – and even before the first polar explorers. For this, we needed natural archives.</p> <h2>Digging up Antarctica’s past</h2> <p>We brought together various natural archives to unearth how the Antarctic ice sheet changed over the past 10,000 years or so. These included:</p> <ul> <li>ice cores collected from Antarctica’s remote interior, which can show us how snow accumulated in the past</li> <li>rocks collected from exposed mountain peaks, which reveal how the ice sheet has thickened or thinned with time</li> <li>sediment cores collected from the seafloor, which reveal how the ice sheet margin – where the edge of the land ice meets the ocean – advanced or retreated</li> <li>lake mud and old beaches, which reveal how the coastline changed in response to the ice sheet growing or shrinking.</li> </ul> <p>When we started our research, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, this period of time was long considered fairly dull, with only small changes to the ice margin.</p> <p>Nevertheless, we studied the many different natural archives one by one. The work felt like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, full of irregular-shaped pieces and seemingly no straight edge. But once we put them together, the pieces lined up and the picture was clear.</p> <p>Most striking was a period of ice loss that took place in all regions of Antarctica about 10,000 to 5,000 years ago. It resulted in many metres of sea-level rise globally.</p> <p>In some regions of Antarctica, however, this ice loss was then followed by ice gain during the past 5,000 years – and a corresponding global sea-level fall – as the ice sheet margin advanced to where it is today.</p> <h2>A warning</h2> <p>Understanding how and why the Antarctic ice sheet changed in this fashion offers lessons for the future.</p> <p>The first lesson is more of a warning. The period of ice loss from 10,000 to 5,000 years ago was rapid, occurring at a similar rate to the most dramatically changing parts of the Antarctic ice sheet today.</p> <p>We think it was likely the result of warm ocean water melting the underside of floating ice shelves – something that has also happened in recent decades. These ice shelves hold back the ice on land, so once they’re removed the ice on the land flows faster into the ocean.</p> <p>In the future, it’s predicted ice loss will <a href="https://youtu.be/XRUxTFWWWdY?t=149" target="_blank" rel="noopener">accelerate</a> as the ice sheet retreats into basins below sea level. This may already be under way in some regions of Antarctica. And based on what happened in the past, the resulting ice loss could persist for centuries.</p> <h2>Bouncing back</h2> <p>The second lesson from our work may bring some hope. Some 5,000 years ago the ice sheet margin stopped retreating in most locations, and in some regions actually started to advance. One explanation for this relates to the previous period of ice loss.</p> <p>Before the ice began melting away, the Antarctic ice sheet was much heavier, and its weight pushed down into the Earth’s crust (which sits atop a molten interior). As the ice sheet melted and became lighter, the land beneath it would have lifted up – effectively hauling the ice out of the ocean.</p> <p>Another possible explanation is climate change. At Antarctica’s coastal fringe, the ocean may have temporarily switched from warmer to cooler waters around the time the ice sheet began advancing again. At the same time, more snowfall took place at the top of the ice sheet.</p> <p>Our research supports the idea that the Antarctic ice sheet is poised to lose more ice and raise sea levels – particularly if the ocean continues to warm.</p> <p>It also suggests uplift of the land and increased snowfall have the potential to slow or offset ice loss. However, this effect is not certain.</p> <p>The past can never be a perfect test for the future. And considering the planet is <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">warming faster</a> now than it was back then, we must err on the side of caution.</p> <p><em><strong>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://theconversation.com/we-studied-how-the-antarctic-ice-sheet-advanced-and-retreated-over-10-000-years-it-holds-warnings-for-the-future-185505" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Conversation</a>.</strong></em></p> <p><em>Image: Shutterstock</em></p>

Travel Trouble

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Antarctic Heritage Trust offers up dream jobs

<p dir="ltr">If your dream job involves living in one of the most remote places on Earth and waking up to count penguins, then the Antarctic Heritage Trust has your back. </p> <p dir="ltr">The UK branch of the trust is hiring a base leader, shop manager and general assistant for their Port Lockroy location in Antarctica. </p> <p dir="ltr">The roles of the job are to help protect the heritage, conserve its environment and share its rich history with about 18,000 visitors each season.</p> <p dir="ltr">The successful applicants will spend five months from November to March at Base ‘A’ – an historic British base situated on the tiny Goudier Island off the Antarctic Peninsula.</p> <p dir="ltr">The main tasks of the job include managing a gift shop and British Antarctic Territory Post Office on the site, as well as overseeing the annual maintenance and upkeep of the buildings and artefacts and wildlife observations for the British Antarctic Survey.</p> <p dir="ltr">While this unique opportunity may be a dream job for some, the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust said Antarctica is a physically and mentally challenging workplace for many reasons.</p> <p dir="ltr">During summer months, temperatures vary between -5C and 10C, with overcast days and windchill often making it feel much colder. </p> <p dir="ltr">It’s also worth noting that there is no running water on the island. </p> <p dir="ltr">Water is collected in jerry cans from visiting ships, which will also offer showers every few days.</p> <p dir="ltr">There is also no flushing toilet at the base, with the basic living quarters involving a singular shared bedroom for all staff. </p> <p dir="ltr">The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust’s flagship historic site was established in 1944 and operated as a British research station until it closed in 1962. </p> <p dir="ltr">In 1996, Port Lockroy was restored as a living museum, and has operated during the Austral summer as a visitor site welcoming those who travel to Antarctica on expedition vessels and yachts.</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p>

International Travel

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Marine protected area is long overdue: Humans threaten the Antarctic Peninsula’s fragile ecosystem

<p>Antarctica, the world’s <a href="https://media.nature.com/original/magazine-assets/d41586-018-07183-6/d41586-018-07183-6.pdf">last true wilderness</a>, has been protected by an <a href="https://www.ats.aq/e/antarctictreaty.html">international treaty</a> for the last 60 years. But the same isn’t true for most of the ocean surrounding it.</p> <p><a href="https://www.asoc.org/advocacy/marine-protected-areas">Just 5%</a> of the Southern Ocean is protected, leaving biodiversity hotspots exposed to threats from human activity.</p> <p>The Western Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost part of the continent and one of its <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0011683">most biodiverse regions</a>, is particularly vulnerable. It faces the cumulative threats of commercial krill fishing, tourism, research infrastructure expansion and climate change.</p> <p>In an <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02939-5">article</a> published in Nature today, we join more than <a href="https://homewardboundprojects.com.au/about/">280 women in STEMM</a> (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine) from the global leadership initiative Homeward Bound to call for the immediate protection of the peninsula’s marine environment, through the designation of a <a href="https://www.antarcticanow.org/">marine protected area</a>.</p> <p>Our call comes ahead of a meeting, due in the next fortnight, of the <a href="https://www.ccamlr.org/en">international group</a> responsible for establishing marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean. We urge the group to protect the region, because delays could be disastrous.</p> <p><strong>Threats on the peninsula</strong></p> <p>The Southern Ocean <a href="https://theconversation.com/explainer-how-the-antarctic-circumpolar-current-helps-keep-antarctica-frozen-106164">plays a vital role</a> in global food availability and security, regulates the planet’s climate and drives global ocean currents. Ice covering the continent stores 70% of the earth’s freshwater.</p> <p>Climate change threatens to unravel the Southern Ocean ecosystem as species superbly adapted to the cold struggle to adapt to warmer temperatures. The impacts of climate change are especially insidious on the Western Antarctic Peninsula, one of the fastest-warming places on Earth. In February, temperatures reached a record high: <a href="https://theconversation.com/anatomy-of-a-heatwave-how-antarctica-recorded-a-20-75-c-day-last-month-134550">a balmy 20.75℃</a>.</p> <p>The peninsula is also the <a href="https://theconversation.com/humans-are-encroaching-on-antarcticas-last-wild-places-threatening-its-fragile-biodiversity-142648">most-visited part of Antarctica</a>, thanks to its easy access, dramatic beauty, awe-inspiring wildlife and rich marine ecosystems.</p> <p>Tourist numbers have doubled in the past decade, increasing the risk of introducing invasive species that hitch a ride on the toursts’ gear. More than <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/470576496/Polar-Perspectives-No-1-Is-it-time-for-a-paradigm-shift-in-how-Antarctic-tourism-is-controlled#download&amp;from_embed">74,000 cruise ship passengers</a> visited last year, up from 33,000 in the 2009-10 season.</p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-wants-to-build-a-huge-concrete-runway-in-antarctica-heres-why-thats-a-bad-idea-139596">The expansion of infrastructure</a> to accommodate scientists and research, such as buildings, roads, fuel storage and runways, can also pose a threat, as it displaces local Antarctic biodiversity.</p> <p>Eighteen nations have science facilities on the Antarctic Peninsula, the highest concentration of research stations anywhere on the continent. There are 19 permanent and 30 seasonal research bases there.</p> <p>Another big threat to biodiversity in the peninsula is the commercial fishing of Antarctic krill, a small, shrimp-like crustacean which is the <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2017.2015">cornerstone of life</a> in this region.</p> <p><strong>A cornerstone of life</strong></p> <p>Krill is a foundation of the food chain in Antarctica, with whales, fish, squid, seals and Adélie and gentoo penguins all feeding on it.</p> <p>But as sea ice cover diminishes, more industrial fishing vessels can encroach on penguin, seal and whale foraging grounds, effectively acting as a competing super-predator for krill.</p> <p>In the past 30 years, colonies of Adélie and Chinstrap penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula have <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/41242231?seq=1">declined by more than 50%</a> due to reduced sea ice and krill harvesting.</p> <p>Commercial Antarctic krill fishing is largely for omega-3 dietary supplements and fish-meal. The fishery in the waters of the Western Antarctic Peninsula is the largest in the <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-2979.2011.00406.x">Southern Ocean</a>.</p> <p>The krill catch here has <a href="https://www.ccamlr.org/en/fisheries/krill">more than tripled</a> from 88,800 tonnes in 2000 to almost 400,000 tonnes in 2019 — the third-largest krill catch in history and a volume not seen since the 1980s.</p> <p><strong>How do we save it?</strong></p> <p>To save the Antarctic Peninsula, one of critical steps is to protect its waters and its source of life: those tiny, but crucially important, Antarctic krill.</p> <p><img style="width: 500px; height: 281.25px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7838471/antarctica-3.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/b40e7f32cd174fa39cb137d91ce94e0f" /></p> <p><span><em>Image caption: </em></span><em><u>A map of the current and proposed marine protected areas under consideration. Cassandra Brooks, Author provided</u></em></p> <p>This can be done by establishing a marine protected area (MPA) in the region, which would limit or prohibit human activities such as commercial fishing.</p> <p>An MPA around the peninsula was first proposed <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336888437_Protecting_Antarctica_through_Co-production_of_actionable_science_Lessons_from_the_CCAMLR_marine_protected_area_process">in 2018</a>, <a href="https://www.ccamlr.org/en/science/mpa-planning-domains">covering</a> 670,000 square kilometres. But the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (the organisation responsible for establishing MPAs in the Southern Ocean) has yet to reach agreement on it.</p> <p>The proposed MPA is an excellent example of balancing environmental protection with <a href="https://theconversation.com/no-take-marine-areas-help-fishers-and-fish-far-more-than-we-thought-119659">commercial interests</a>.</p> <p>The area would be split into two zones. The first is a general protection zone covering 60% of the MPA, designed to protect different habitats and key wildlife and mitigate specific ecosystem threats from fishing.</p> <p>The second is a krill fishery zone, allowing for a precautionary management approach to commercial fishing and keeping some fishing areas open for access.</p> <p><img style="width: 500px; height: 281.25px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7838472/antarctica-2.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/be0da721223d49479b289f835fa16b2b" /></p> <p><span><em>Image caption: </em></span><em><u>A map of the current and proposed marine protected areas under consideration. Cassandra Brooks, Author provided</u></em></p> <p>The proposed MPA would stand for 70 years, with a review every decade so zones can be adjusted to preserve ecosystems.</p> <p><strong>No more disastrous delays</strong></p> <p>The commission is made up of 25 countries and the European Union. In its upcoming meeting, the proposed MPA will once again be considered. Two other important MPA proposals are also on the table in the East Antarctic and Weddell Sea.</p> <p>In fact, for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/02/antarctic-marine-park-conservationists-frustrated-after-protection-bid-fails-for-eight-time">eight consecutive years</a>, the proposal for a marine park in Eastern Antarctica has failed. Delays like this are potentially disastrous for the fragile ecosystem.</p> <p>Protecting the peninsula is the most pressing priority due to rising threats, but the commission should adopt all three to fulfil their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269874896_Competing_values_on_the_Antarctic_high_seas_CCAMLR_and_the_challenge_of_marine-protected_areas">2002 commitment</a> to establishing an MPA network in Antarctica.</p> <p>If all three were established, then more than 3.2 million square kilometres of the Southern Ocean would be protected, giving biodiversity a fighting chance against the compounding threats of human activity in the region.</p> <p><em>Written by <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/marissa-parrott-561432">Marissa Parrott</a>, University of Melbourne; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/carolyn-hogg-1166504">Carolyn Hogg</a>, University of Sydney; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/cassandra-brooks-419939">Cassandra Brooks</a>, University of Colorado Boulder; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/justine-shaw-299755">Justine Shaw</a>, The University of Queensland, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/melissa-cristina-marquez-1166518">Melissa Cristina Márquez</a>, Curtin University. Republished with permission of <a href="https://theconversation.com/humans-threaten-the-antarctic-peninsulas-fragile-ecosystem-a-marine-protected-area-is-long-overdue-147671">The Conversation.</a> </em></p>

Cruising

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The lure of an Antarctic Adventure

<p>I blame my grandfather whose massive old atlas used to sit on the bookshelf next to rows of faded and well-thumbed National Geographic magazines. I’d sit for hours poring over the pages, unfolding the maps and imagine travelling to Prussia, Ceylon, the New Hebrides and Yugoslavia. Places I will now never visit, not by those names anyway.</p> <p>But it was the huge, empty white continent of Antarctica that always intrigued me. I imagined infinitely white vistas, ice-encrusted shorelines and flocks of bizarre creatures engaged in all manner of noisy rituals. I made a promise to myself to venture there one day to see Antarctica’s foreboding frozen wastes firsthand.</p> <p>As far as the Antarctic is concerned, the peninsula is the most densely populated location on the continent, sprinkled with remote research bases and minute outposts. At the height of the summer season, the human population numbers over 3,000 – not counting tourists. That figure shrinks to less than 1,000 during the intensely chilly winter.</p> <p>Fast-forward forty-odd years and that misty dream becomes reality. I’m standing on the bow of a modern ice vessel watching hefty chunks of disintegrating pack ice thud against the hull as we pick our way gingerly through a narrow channel. Lonely groups of Adelie Penguins watch curiously as we inch past, while in the distance, a lone Leopard Seal dives for cover under the ice floe. The Akedemik Sergey Vavilov and its seasoned crew of Russian mariners prepare to make the perilous entry into the ever-diminishing confines of the frozen waterways along the Palmer Archipelago.</p> <p>During the pre-dawn, Vavilov enters the relatively broad expanse of the Gerlache Strait and well before the first smell of morning coffee wafts up from the galley, we’re perched around the bow, goggle-eyed, as the snow-splattered peaks embracing the Lemaire Channel loom above us.</p> <p>This is the sort of vision that lasts forever in the mind’s eye – a manic chequerboard of ice chunks, so-called ‘bergie bits’, are arrayed out before us. Now at a virtual crawl, the Vavilov gently nudges them aside, the ice-strengthened steel bow ushering them delicately around the hull amid muffled, squeaking protests.</p> <p>After a suitably reinforcing breakfast we reached our southernmost point, Petermann Island, where a very basic survival hut erected by the Argentines in 1955 provides essential food, shelter and magazines for marooned explorers – handy to know if I miss the last Zodiac back to the ship. A cross erected nearby bears witness to those who didn’t make it.</p> <p>Apart from the curious hut, the little outpost plays host to the southernmost flock of breeding Gentoo Penguins while Sheathbills, Shags and the ever-opportunistic Skuas patrol overhead.</p> <p>The return journey was interrupted with some leisurely Zodiac (rigid inflatable runabout) cruising among the grounded icebergs off Pleneau Island. Seasoned by a stiff, sleety breeze, the scene is like a frozen graveyard. These doomed bergs aren’t going anywhere.</p> <p>Heads suddenly swivel and cameras are produced as a timid female leopard seal and pup suddenly appear, and just as mysteriously disappear, amid the frosted icescape. This is a rare sighting even for experienced expeditioners and just goes to show you never know what you’ll see.</p> <p>We make a call at Port Lockroy on tiny Goudier Island. Abandoned by the British Antarctic Survey in 1962, the cute hut is chock full of artefacts from the mid 20th century’s Antarctic expeditions and is now a heritage listed site and emporium of Antarctica souvenirs from pencil sharpeners to furry penguins.</p> <p>The most visited single site on the peninsula, the preserved station houses a vintage radio room, galley and a working post office where you can send a genuine Antarctic postcard and get your passport stamped.</p> <p>The subject of many postcards, the aptly named Paradise Bay is the epitome of classic Antarctic Peninsula scenery and we disembark for a vigorous stroll to the top of the cliff for a breathtaking view. Deceptively tranquil waterways dotted with ice cakes and framed by snow-dusted cliffs, completely silent except for the occasional screech of a wheeling seabird.</p> <p>Now, years later and safely reliving my adventure in the comfort of reminiscence, I occasionally blow the dust off Pop’s weighty old atlas and smile childishly as my failing eyes pass along what were once simply maps but are now living, full colour diaries of adventure.</p> <p>Writer’s Tip: The comfort of modern expedition vessels has increased enormously at very little cost, if any. As with expedition cruises anywhere, first decide what you want to see and for how long, then set about choosing the vessel most suited to your comfort level and budget. Often the more luxurious ships can be a little timid in their expedition delivery, while the sturdy old ex-Soviet vessels go where others fear to sail.</p> <p><em>Written by Roderick Eime. Republished with permission of </em><a href="https://www.mydiscoveries.com.au/stories/the-lure-of-an-antarctic-adventure/"><em>MyDiscoveries.</em></a></p>

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