Our zodiac landed on a flat volcanic beach to an unexpected sight. Gentoo penguins and Antarctic fur seals were everywhere! The abandoned buildings proved we were not the first people these animals shared a beach with.
Dozens of seals and penguins seemed unaware of the law, the Antarctic Treaty, to keep a minimum of 5 meters from humans.
I was first introduced to the International Antarctic Treaty when I asked my expedition leaders if I could analyze water samples from Antarctica. To abide by the treaty, I would need a permit to use probes to collect data on water temperature, conductivity, ph, and nitrates. This surprised me since I was not producing waste water nor using chemicals. Luckily, the National Science Foundation, US EPA, and US Dept of State were helpful and quick to a teacher’s request to learn and teach about the environment, and granted me permission to test the water. With Antarctica designated as “ a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science,” 53 countries have agreed that no one owns Antarctica. In a spirit of international peace and science, leaving no trace, I collected water samples for 10 days: twice from shore, and 8 times from the ship. Huge thanks to biologist Fabrice Genevois (Quark Expeditions, University of Lyon, France) for your academic mentorship in sampling water with me!
From the shore of Whaler’s Bay, I waded in to retrieve a sample using the bucket protocol. The water was 2 degrees Celcius, so luckily my knee-high boots were warm and waterproof. Data will be entered on the GLOBE website, with the narrative on the H2yOu Project (h2youproject.com).
And why would there be buildings here? Who would want a vacation home near this 2-degree water? These buildings are the remains of Hektor Whaling Station, built in 1912! As Rob Swan warned us, it was a bit creepy – whale skeletons and abandoned buildings loom as a sign of human impact. Insightful 12-year old Raphael Mear said it best, “I can tell how easily affected this place is. All I did was put a piece of wood in the stream and it diverted the current causing a massive piece of the bank to collapse! “ Our impact stands out here on this white continent lined of whales, penguins and seals.
Over 100 years ago, homes were fueled by the whaling industry, nearly driving whale numbers to the brink of extinction. There’s no point in thinking negatively about this! This place is a hopeful sign! Long ago, whale oil was clean, good oil to give light. Then electricity was invented and whale industry collapsed. Technology changes things – it did for the whales. Deception Island is depressing, but let’s make it positive because things can change! I felt proud to be wearing a First Solar jacket – my major sponsor. I feel hope that through technology of alternate energy like solar energy, we are on the next big energy transition for a cleaner, more sustainable planet!