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Expedition of a lifetime: Antarctica
By:
Maryke Musson
Maryke is the CEO of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation. She is a scientist by training, but an absolute superwoman in general, juggling the daily operations and fulfilling the mission of the Aquarium Foundation.

Maryke and Miss Harold Custard, a resident penguin at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Northern Rockhopper penguins are found in Antarctica. 

The only land animal that naturally occurs in Antarctica is a little midge. It is just too cold for anything else. There are various marine animals of course, such as penguins, seals, whales, krill and even squid. Soon, there will be a group of aspiring young change agents together with world-renowned adventurer Riaan Manser, environmental educator Fadli Wagiet, and our very own CEO, Maryke Musson, exploring the ice continent as part of the Matrics in Antarctica programme.

Riaan Manser believes that the future of our planet is very dependent on the actions of the youth and wanted to share out-of-the-classroom environmental impact education on the most remote continent, with the youth of South Africa. Five students were selected from thousands of applications based on their interest in climate action and commitment to creating awareness around caring about the environment, in their own communities and beyond.

Maryke gave us a bit of background on the planning and preparations of the expedition:

Visiting Antarctica is, at the best of times, a logistic challenge, but during a pandemic even more so. Preparations included self-quarantining at home, followed by seven days of complete isolation in a hotel room with COVID-19 testing in between. The Table Bay Hotel, in the V&A Waterfront, kindly offered to host the team for the duration of the quarantine period. This means great comfort, but absolutely no contact with anybody. All activities, discussions and presentations are taking place online, while we are all marveling at the incredible view of the V&A Waterfront and Table Mountain. It has also been very insightful learning more about the sustainability practices at the Table Bay Hotel, from responsible procurement to saving water and managing waste.

There are more than 40 different bird species, including petrols, albatrosses and skuas.

Antarctic reserach team of 1971. Image courtesy of Antarctic Legacy of South Africa.

The Antarctic ice fish has no hemoglobin as cold blood absorbs oxygen so much better. This fish thus has white gills and is very pale in appearance.

 

 My uncle and a good family friend both overwintered in Antarctica in 1971, at the then SANAE base. Gustav Nel was the team leader, with Dr. Louis Wessels, a neurosurgeon, the team doctor (and a brain specialist, who I suppose, can come in handy when literally living under the ice for more than half of the year). I grew up with photos of frozen beards and ice, and stories of the cold and the camaraderie, and have been fascinated by this mass of ice double the size of Australia ever since. South Africa had its first overwinter team in Antarctica in 1960, and to date has sent 58 teams of jolly hardy men and women to spend 12 months in the harshest environment on our planet, while collecting data and doing research. The average annual temperature at the South Pole is -49°C. We will most likely not experience such low temperatures, but I am definitely preparing myself mentally for being mostly chilly. 

The ocean around Antarctica is the only area in the world where you will not find sea turtles (but not to worry, our little turtle mascot who recently completed the 13 Peaks Challenge with Karoline Hanks will be the first turtle spotted in Antarctica).

Students learning about Antarctica during the quarantine period. 

 

On 25 January we will board an ALCI (Antarctica Logistics Company International) flight directly from Cape Town to Queen Maud Land’s blue ice landing strip for an experience of a lifetime. The students will be challenged to collectively craft some solutions to environmental issues, such as pollution, water scarcity, food security and finding sustainable energy sources while including people and planet health. They will get the opportunity to do hands on experiments analysing freshwater in Antarctica, biodiversity observations, a litter clean-up on the ice, and human physiology investigations with regards to the body’s response to the icy conditions there. They will get to explore the Queen Maud Land area, visit the ice tunnels and walls, tour the nearby Russian research station and view the incredible rock formations. With 24-hour sunlight, they will have plenty of time to include fun activities such as ice tennis and camping out on the ice continent. 

Ice and snow cover 98% of Antarctica.

We are excited to follow these young adults into their future, where we believe they are going to be even more impactful in their chosen career fields because of what this program offered them.

The students will come back with knowledge about Antarctica, with first-hand experience of the icy climate, with the ability to formulate research questions, and participate in environmentally relevant investigations. They will learn about climate change and how to measure carbon emissions, and calculate their own carbon footprint. They will come back with a much broader understanding of their impact on this world and how they can inspire their communities to work together to reduce their carbon footprint, and in doing so, create a better environment for all.

Inspecting a penguin. Image courtesy of Antarctic Legacy of South Africa.

During summer feeding season blue whales around Antarctica eat about 4 million krill per day, which is about 4 tons.

Quarantine week is all about learning and with presentations by educators Fadli Wagiet and Delecia Davids, and a string of external guest presenters such as Ria Olivier from the Antarctic Legacy of South Africa, ice swimmer Ryan Stramrood, marine pollution expert Prof Denver Hendricks, oceanographer Marc de Vos, and CEO of the NSRI, Dr Cleeve Robertson to name but a few.

In 1982 the CCAMLR (Convention on Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) was developed to protect marine resources from being over-exploited.

Sean Kavanagh, after digging out the base. Image courtesy of Antarctic Legacy of South Africa.

 

An experience like this does not only enrich and expand young adults’ understanding of the world and the environment, it places them directly in a very unfamiliar, unknown and rather hostile ecosystem where they will collectively think, debate, experience and develop constructive plans on how to make a difference to this planet and our people. It is a lovely group, from diverse backgrounds, and working together as a team will offer great opportunity to acquire additional skills of connecting with others and the power of collaboration. It will be a once in a lifetime experience which will offer plenty opportunity to also just admire and enjoy this incredible continent, and roll around in the ice. An expedition such as this often creates a strong foundation for our future leaders to understand how they can make a difference in their communities and at a global scale, from an environmental and social perspective. It has also been shown how effective ‘outside the classroom’ experiential learning is, and these students will experience the ultimate outside classroom. 

If all the ice in Antarctica melted, sea level will rise with 60 m.

This expedition would not be possible without Riaan’s crazy ideas and the incredible support from many sponsors and suppliers such as ALCI, Columbia (their gear will be keeping us warm), The Department of Basic Education, The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Canon, NatGeo (media partners and producing a film on the expedition), PPS, Stellenbosch University, Urup, Woolworths, DSTV,  Kulula.com, and of course The Table Bay Hotel.

Various brand sponsors also supplied some amazing goodies to take with, such as Sealand Gear, Waddle On socks, SWASH, Buffoon and Deep Blue Aquatic.

We are all incredibly excited about visiting Antarctica and will most definitely keep you all posted.

6 Comments

  1. I do wish I could do this. What a wonderful experience for these young people! Please keep me in the loop. Have a blast all of you.

    Reply
  2. Wishing you all safe travels and an amazing experience.

    Reply
  3. Congratulations! Good luck with this unique adventure, we could be so proud of all of you! Enjoy! 🙏🏻

    Reply
  4. Wow! Maryke what an exceptional opportunity. Enjoy every minute.

    Reply
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    Reply
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