Visiting White Continent: My Journey to Antarctica

“The will to change is in itself, a renewable resource”
—Al Gore

So it began on 28th Feb from Ushuaia, Argentina – the southern most city of the world. Also famous as the end of the world.

‘Team 2041’ comprising of around 90 people from more than 20 countries, set sail across the Beagle channel. After crossing the Cape Horn (southernmost part of South America) we experienced a stormy Drake passage (Mar de Hoces) with Albatross flying along the ship. One could barely lift their sick bodies out to the deck to witness the massive waves! Most the participants were sea sick and were hardly found out of their rooms :), Not me, of course 🙂

For two continuous days all we could see was only sea, barring few exceptions of citing some Sea Gulls, Albatross and luckily few Whales. While crossing the latitudes we were also able to experience the Furious Fifties and Shrieking Sixties. (Geography students can figure this out well)

We came across the first Iceberg on 2nd March (almost after 3 days of continuous sail) and we celebrated it like the classy way! 3rd of march was extraordinary for all of us as crossed the Antarctic Circle (66’ 30” S) followed by our first landing on Dettaile island where we could see the remains of a British base and also, spotted our first Seals (Crabeaters & Antarctic Fur Seals) and Penguins (the Adelie Penguins).

Then for another few days we had our Zodiacs and some landings at different Islands of Antarctica, such as

—Cape Tuxen, which is a known stronghold of Antarctic Botany. In addition to a variety of rare and colourful Antarctic Mosses and lichens, we were also able to see the only two flowering plants in all of Antarctica, (Antarctic hair grass and the Antarctic pearlwort),

—‘Damoy point’, full of Gentoo Penguins colony and its shitty smell :), via picturesque Neumayer channel,

—Yalour Islands, ‘Port Charcot’ with its amazing landscape & history,

— Pléneau Bay, separating Hovgaard Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. where we found an Ice berg garden, full of large tabular ones and older, rolled icebergs having run aground. many of these have originated from as far south as the Ross Ice shelf, which in turn is melting at an alarming rate. (another evidence).

During these cruises and landings, we were able to see and experience climatic changes real time in the form of melting Ice bergs which as per the historians are being drifted northwards are losing weight, which in turn, was quite evident from the crystal ice (the lower portion of the glacier which, over the period of time compresses into the crystal shaped ice, once the air in its pores escapes out because of the compressional forces exerted by the overlying layers of snow) floating across the sea and supposed to be formed some 10000-15000 years back.

Also, we were given to understand that the colony of Adelie Penguins taken over by the Gentoo penguins was apparently another evidence of climate change as the Adele penguins are believed to be shifting their bases to further down south.

Then came the 7th & 8th of March, and we were lucky enough to make continental landing in the Antarctic peninsula and experience its beauty and serenity, spent some time hiking on the snow covered mountains, unfurled our National flag and also the Departmental flag there with pride.

On the 9th of March, we landed on one of the most beautiful sites in Antarctica, the Whaler’s bay, Deception Island. (an Active volcano Site) the precincts of Whaling industry, the damage it did to the Antarctic Eco-system was quite visible. The buildings included the remains of the Norwegian Hector whaling station and a British Antarctic survey (BAS) base.

Moving over, in the second part of the day we landed at a crescent shaped Half Moon island,considered as home to the Chinstrap Penguins. The beauty of this island lies in it being a breeding site for Antarctic terns, Skuas, Kelp gulls, Wilson’s storm-petrels, Blue eyed shags, sea lions, and Chinstrap penguins.

That same evening, at the stern, we bade our farewell Toast to Antarctica.

Ciao Antarctica!!

In addition to the daily Cruises and landings, meanwhile, all these days, we attended the ‘Leadership on the edge program in Antarctica. (LOTE) wherein, we had our sessions on various subjects such as Marine Glaciology, Marine Biology, Whales, Penguins, Sea birds, Geology, Antarctic History, by the specialists of the Quark team.

There were also some sessions on Leadership, Story telling by the 2041 team and also the sessions on Climate change, Mitigation & Sustainability by David Hone, a specialist on climate change and sustainability.

Most of the time was spent in groups and discussions on various subjects such as finding solutions, but not only for environment and sustainability but also for various social ills plaguing our societies across the globe such as gender inequality, eco-feminism, consumerism, depression, Farmers unrest, etc.

We were familiarized with different problems and challenges faced by people in different parts of the world.

The biggest takeaway for me was to be able to meet some wonderful minds from across the globe, to know about their culture, listen to their inspiring stories and learn something peculiar & interesting from each one of them as the participants came from different backgrounds, from Students to Budding entrepreneurs, Climate change specialists, People working on sustainable investments, Civil servants, Established businessmen, UN officials, Politicians in making, Scientists, Musicians, Actors, Adventure Sports Professionals, Photographers, Social activists, Writers & Editors, etc.

It indeed was a great learning experience for me. We stayed together, almost like a family, tried to find tangible solutions to be carried back home for community intervention, and were able to make friendships that I believe would last for long…

At the pristine and amazingly beautiful but fragile continent Antarctica.
In conversation with the ClimateForce/International Antarctica Expedition, IAE-2018 leader Mr. Robert Swan, OBE, (UN Goodwill Ambassador for youth and the first person to have walked to both north and south pole), talking about Antarctica & highlighting the GST & E-Way Bill’s impact in reducing carbon foot prints and the leadership shown by CBEC in its implementation.

Also, the work, Indian Customs does in safeguarding the Economic frontiers of our country as well as in protecting the wildlife heritage to be smuggled in or out of the country and the role it plays in environmental sustainability. #Save_Antarctica, it regulates the oceanic circulations worldwide and the global temperatures, too. we need to leave a better world for our next generation. lot more to learn, experience and share as,

‘All i know is that i know nothing’

Afaq Giri IRS (Customs, Central Excise & Narcotics), Govt. of India

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