ICY EX­PE­DI­TION

A JOUR­NEY TO THE END OF THE WORLD IS NOT JUST A LIFE-AL­TER­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCE BUT IT MAY JUST AD­VANCE THE CAUSE OF SAV­ING ANTARC­TICA, THE LAST PRIS­TINE WILDER­NESS

India Today - - CONTENTS - MANDIP SINGH SOIN FRGS Fel­low­ship of the Royal Ge­o­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety Ex­plorer & Ad­ven­ture Trav­eller

BOLDLY GO WHERE FEW MEN HAVE GONE BE­FORE:TO ANTARC­TICA

In the month of May 1989, I was study­ing the ozone hole in the Arc­tic and the ef­fects of pol­lu­tants from the at­mos­phere onto the pris­tine icy ex­panse of the Cana­dian Arc­tic at 80 de­grees North. This was as part of the group of In­struc­tors at the In­ter­na­tional Ice Walk Stu­dents Ex­pe­di­tion, the brain­child of Po­lar ex­plorer, Robert Swan. It was with grave con­cern that we looked at the sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments, sup­ported by our team of Amer­i­can and Cana­dian Sci­en­tists, re­al­is­ing that the Ozone hole was in­deed en­larg­ing and that PCB’s (Poly-Chlo­ri­nated Biphenyls) had started to pol­lute the Arc­tic waters. The one key ob­jec­tive was to get the in­ter­na­tional stu­dents and in­struc­tors to be­come am­bas­sadors of the en­vi­ron­ment and to start cre­at­ing aware­ness.

It is ironic, that now, three decades later, I am em­bark­ing on a won­der­ful cruise aboard the Ocean En­deav­our—a com­fort­able, wellap­pointed small ex­pe­di­tion ship ex­pertly en­gi­neered to ex­plore the po­lar re­gions— that will show us the stark beauty of the Antarc­tic. For­tu­itously, there is lit­tle pol­lu­tion to worry about now. How­ever, the go­rilla in the room is the fact that in 2048 the Antarc­tica Treaty will come to an end and by 2041 so will the mora­to­rium on min­ing. The fear ahead is that we may lose one of the world’s last pris­tine wilder­nesses to devel­op­ment as coun­tries may move in for min­ing with se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pli­ca­tions.

A JOUR­NEY WITH A PUR­POSE

To this end, I thought the way for­ward is to con­sider ways of con­ser­va­tion by tak­ing a group of mo­ti­vated civil so­ci­ety per­sons whose voices would be heard and felt. For­tu­nately, now, one can do it pretty safely and in com­fort, yet al­low­ing for a unique ed­u­ca­tion with an awak­en­ing to serve this cause. And what bet­ter way than ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the Antarc­tic aboard the Ocean En-

deav­our. It is also the only po­lar ad­ven­ture ship in Antarc­tica that is fo­cussed on health and well­ness and of­fers a con­tem­po­rary ap­proach to cui­sine and newly-de­signed health and fit­ness fea­tures.

Es­sen­tially, the ship takes 199 pas­sen­gers and has six deck lev­els with not only a spa and a gym but also a cou­ple of lounges, din­ing ar­eas, bars and even a small heated salt wa­ter pool. Most Antarc­tic jour­neys would start with a flight to the hap­pen­ing city of Euro­pean her­itage, Buenos Aires, where one can get over jet lag with a tall glass of Mal­bec and some foot-tap­ping Tango. From there, you need to fly south to the south­ern­most city on the Planet— Ushuaia—from where the ship sets sail south-east to­wards Antarc­tica across the in­fa­mous Drake pas­sage.

Our jour­ney will be­gin on Fe­bru­ary 22, 2017, in Buenos Aires (some cab­ins are still avail­able) the meet­ing point, af­ter which we fly on the 24th to Ushuaia to set sail to the frozen con­ti­nent. It will serve well to dis­cover our sea legs for the next two days across the Drake Channel which could in­volve some rolling and pitch­ing. We hope it’s not too placid else it will be­come the Drake lake nor would we want to be in the eye of a storm where the waves could rise as high as 30ft.

THE FROZEN CON­TI­NENT

Af­ter hav­ing sur­vived the Drake pas­sage, the 32 of us will then em­bark on the real up-close ex­pe­ri­ences by mak­ing land­ings on the sev­enth con­ti­nent, which will give us a per­spec­tive of what it feels like to be stand­ing on 90 per cent of all the world’s ice and 70 per cent of all the world’s fresh wa­ter. From the com­fort of a warm cabin, one would come out to sub-zero tem­per­a­tures. Much like in the movies, one would need to go down to the low­est deck and step out into the Zo­di­acs—rub­berised boats with an out­board mo­tor and pro­pel off to­wards the Antarc­tica shelf, past some awe­somely sculpted ice­bergs, only to greet colonies of pen­guins.

Each day and night would bring out a dif­fer­ent kind of magic. Since it is the month of Fe­bru­ary, we will not only ex­pe­ri­ence night skies with the bril­liance of ex­quis­ite starry con­stel­la­tions but also amaz­ing ice­bergs that have cut loose from the main shelf and form ob­jects of beauty re­flect­ing the vary­ing moods of the light.

Other days, we will try to come close and per­sonal with the Hump­back or Minke

whales that are best viewed be­tween the months of Fe­bru­ary and March. Other times, there will be op­por­tu­ni­ties to visit the cun­ning Leop­ard seals. But re­mem­ber, all foot­fall has to fol­low strict en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­to­col where spe­cial boots are dipped in sani­tised liq­uids and no food al­lowed as it can be deemed a pol­lu­tant.

AN­I­MAL SIGHT­INGS AND OTHER PLEASURES

For the more ac­tive, apart from the gen­tle treks and ram­bles to view the pen­guins, there are some in­vig­o­rat­ing ac­tiv­ity choices like the Po­lar Plunge which is a brain numb­ing dive into freez­ing waters—of­ten sub zero—for those who wish to use it as a rite of pas­sage to reaf­firm man­hood or wom­an­hood. For oth­ers, there is kayak­ing and pad­dle board­ing which are all op­tional. All this hap­pens as the ship sails along the South Shet­land Is­lands along the Antarc­tic penin­sula. The ex­pe­di­tion will also have many sci­en­tists, and in par­tic­u­lar, guest speaker, Jonathan Shack­le­ton, a cousin of Sir Ernest Shack­le­ton, the leg­endary po­lar ex­plorer. He will re­in­force why Antarc­tica is im­por­tant to pre­serve for sci­ence be­cause of its pro­found ef­fect on the Earth’s cli­mate and ocean sys­tems as well as be­ing the world’s most im­por­tant nat­u­ral lab­o­ra­tory, and a place of great beauty and won­der, of course.

Af­ter all, “Va­sud­haiva Ku­tum­bakam”, men­tioned in our Upan­ishads, sug­gests that the en­tire planet is our home and all liv­ing be­ings our fam­ily. In that spirit alone, is it not worth pro­tect­ing for­ever?

My son, Him­raj Soin, Young ex­plorer and Project 2041 Am­bas­sador, who went on an ear­lier ex­pe­di­tion to Antarc­tica, writes this: “When you’re at the end of the world, the rest of the world stands still. Or­di­nary prob­lems seem mun­dane. Un­touched by time and hu­mans (mostly), this Terra Aus­tralis or “South­ern Land” is the harsh­est, most in­hos­pitable, dri­est, cold­est, and windi­est con­ti­nent on Earth. It is also how­ever, the most pure, pri­mal, peace­ful and poignant. It’s the only place on Earth that is how it should be, and may it al­ways re­main that way.’’

The year 2017 has been de­clared the In­ter­na­tional Year for Sus­tain­able Tourism for Devel­op­ment by the United Na­tions. This jour­ney will show us the way, and al­low us to up­hold these very prin­ci­ples of sus­tain­abil­ity for now and for pos­ter­ity.

PHOTO COUR­TESY QUARK EX­PE­DI­TIONS

rub­berised boats called Zo­di­acs help come closer to the antarc­tica shelf, past sculpted ice­bergs

a colony of pen­guins wad­dling along hu­man vis­i­tors on their is­land

KAREN QUIGLEY

PHOTO COUR­TESY QUARK EX­PE­DI­TIONS

loung­ing ar­eas aboard the oe­cean en­deav­our, a spe­cial ship to ex­plore the po­lar re­gions

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