Damoy Point, Dorian Bay, Wiencke Island.
Lat: 64° 52’ S, Long: 63° 48’ W
Wind: 30 Knt NE, Temp: 1° C (7 PM)
Each day is a magnificent instant replay of the day before…stunning views from the moment we set foot on the deck until we turn in for the night. The band of clouds forming a horizontal band across the landscape this morning was hiding mountains and glaciers like a game of hide and seek.
Crisp morning air filled me with excitement for a new day here in Antarctica. Land of extremes. Coldest, windiest, driest, and highest overall elevation of any continent…Antarctica shares only a few of the characteristics of its counterpart in the north…the Arctic. Today I’d like to share some of the similarities and differences of the polar regions with you.
The North Pole in the Arctic is water, surrounded by land. North America, Europe and Asia are the land masses bordering the Arctic. In contrast, Antarctica is a land mass, surround by water – the Southern Ocean on which we are traveling right now. People have inhabited land in the Arctic for thousands of years. No one lives permanently in Antarctica. People come here for peaceful scientific purposes…they stay at scientific stations…there are no permanent homes in Antarctica.
Although both places have marine mammals such as whales, porpoises, and seals, the species are not the same in each location. And, many people think that polar bears live in Antarctica…but they are Arctic creatures. Penguins, well I think you know by now that they live in Antarctica, but some species are found farther north of here, but still in the Southern Hemisphere.
In the Arctic there are many species of mammals that live on the land…muskox, caribou, fox, hare, wolves, and more. There are NO mammals living on the land in Antarctica. Yes, we see seals that come up on the ice and snow and land to bask in the “summer” sun and give birth to their pups, but they ultimately head back into the ocean to eat and migrate north during the long Antarctic winter.
This stunning and inhospitable landscape is challenging for us humans, and it always amazes me that there is rich diversity of wildlife here…in the vast Southern Ocean. From tiny krill to giant whales, Antarctic toothfish to seals, and all the sea stars and creatures in between…we must strive to protect the Southern Ocean and every creature that calls it home.
Today we were hoping to pass through the Lemaire Channel…which is said to be one of the most spectacular places in this region. Once again, Mother Nature had different plans for our day. The mouth of the Lemaire was blocked by a large amount of ice, which would prove to be too much for our ship. We did anchor nearby for most of the day, which afforded us beautiful views. It was just out of our reach. I’ve pointed to the mouth of the Lemaire Channel in the photo below.
It was a pretty gorgeous day…blue sky, sunny, not much wind.
This video was recommended by one of the Homeward Bound participants…and I think it does a good job explaining the differences between Antarctic land ice and the sea ice surrounding the continent. It can be confusing because of the various types of ice associated with Antarctica (and the Arctic), so I encourage you to take a look at this video to learn more about the increase/decrease of land vs. sea ice.
Late afternoon we moved in position to be closer to Wiencke Island for a landing this evening. Check out our location on the map below. We have been hanging around this area to be ready for our landing at Palmer Station tomorrow. Greg did mention that if the ice conditions changed…there was still an outside chance that we could pass through the Lemaire Channel before we start heading north again in a few days. Fingers are crossed!
Just as we were settling in to have dinner there was a big announcement and decision to make. Another cruise ship was in the same area, and on board that ship was a rather famous activist working to protect parts of the Southern Ocean…Lewis Pugh.
Lewis spent February and into early March of 2015 swimming in various spots in Antarctica …to raise awareness and support to protect the Ross Sea region of the Southern Ocean. He is an endurance swimmer and was named the United Nations Patron of the Oceans in 2013. Lewis has complete a long distance swim in every ocean in the world, and works tirelessly to help establish Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s).
The Ross Sea Marine Protected Area was created in October, 2016, by a unanimous decision of the international organization called the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Twenty-four countries make up this commission. This area of the Ross Sea is now the world’s largest marine reserve, ensuring that 598,000 square miles of water and all of its inhabitants, perhaps up to 16,000 species, are protected. Nutrient-rich krill blooms, feeding thousands of penguins, whales, seals, and fish, and thousands of other creatures in this pristine sea…often referred to as the least altered marine ecosystem on the planet, are now protected for the future.
Lewis had agreed to come on board the Ushuaia tonight and talk with our Homeward Bound contingent. Those still wishing to go to shore for the landing could do so, but most stayed on board to listen to what Lewis had to say. He’s back at it…swimming in Antarctica and working to expand the protection for vulnerable seas in Antarctica. The campaign, Antarctica 2020, aims to increase the total marine protected area in the the Antarctic region to nearly 7,000,000 square km (2,700,000 square miles, roughly the size of Australia) including parts of the Weddell Sea and the Bellingshausen Sea in the seas of East Antarctica.
He’s a storyteller, and showed the importance of telling stories to inspire people. As he described his swimming adventures, he demonstrated his commitment to saving/protecting the Southern Ocean. Hypothermia and other challenges (such a leopard seals and other dangerous wildlife) haven’t deterred him from completing his goals. Many, many times he mentioned his concerns (shared by many on our Homeward Bound journey) what kind of planet Earth we are passing down to our children and future generations. Lewis says, “If we pass on an unsustainable environment to our children we have failed them.”
Something that Lewis talked about really resonated with me. He was asked about children spending so much time indoors and playing with electronics and how things had really shifted in terms of kids and nature. He replied, “If we know nothing about nature, why would we protect it.” He went on to say that it was critically important to get children into national parks, and connect them with the soil and the sea. I absolutely agree and have always made it my mission as an educator to encourage exploration and discovery outdoors, and for people of all ages to get out into our national parks. We will save those things we love…and if children do not learn to love the animals, plants, mountains, oceans, and every wild place on this planet, they will not work hard to protect and save them.
After Lewis completed his talk, we all went up to the bow of the ship for a group photo. This was a rare opportunity tonight…a chance meeting in the middle of the Southern Ocean in the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s amazing how sometimes things just work out.
Here is an overall map of the Antarctic Peninsula, showing our current location in the bigger picture.
As the sun dipped lower on the horizon, the view was really lovely. A great way to end the evening. Palmer Station tomorrow…a bit of a U.S. connection for me. I know several people who have worked there in the past, and I’ve been ready for a chance to check it out.
I’ll leave you with our almost sunset…and a short video of an iceberg bobbing in the Southern Ocean, and with some special words of inspiration about nature. Enjoy!
“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.” Christopher Paolini, Eragon
“I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful — and endless prospect of magic and wonder.” Ansel Adams
And one of my very favorites…from Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring…“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. …There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”