I stared out at the snow covered glaciers and mountains. The landscape looked like a giant sweet potato casserole with melted marshmallow bumps on top. That’s Antarctica – a bunch of marshmallow bumps. I focused in on the ice-strewn water. It undulated ever so slowly as if it were breathing. It’s very disorienting to have your flat landscape undulate. It made me feel like I was living in a digitally created world and it was slowly breaking down –inside the matrix. I half expected to see 1 and 0’s start to float by. And maybe even Neo.
As we passed through the slushy ice, I turned to the back of the ship where you could see the path the ship left from ‘slicing through’ the sea ice. It now undulated behind us. However as we moved no more than 100 feet further along, the path quickly closed back up as if we were never there. I stared back at the ice pack and panicked – our path was closed, no one could tell we’ve been there, it’s like we were invisible in this undulating world.
I spent a lot of time on the Spirit of Enderby’s deck – just watching this perfect world float by as if I were in zero gravity. A sun that never sets, and penguins that stare at you as your giant ship passes by their iceberg; it’s otherworldly. It makes me wonder what’s going through their little brains…suddenly seeing a ship pass by their floating piece of ice. Some of them are non-chalant, and some run away as if a space ship is hovering above them.
If You Visit Antarctica, Say Goodbye to Green
It dawned on me, the color green is completely unrepresented in Antarctica. I see blue, white, orange and red iron deposits in rocks, black and yellow penguins, pinks skies when the sun is low…but it’s completely devoid of green. Antarctica is one of the most amazing places on earth. There is absolutely nothing green here, not a single seed, and yet there is life. Not just life, but an abundance of life. This part of the globe dwarfs you in every way and you feel small – and so do all of your troubles. They are little and insignificant when staring at a shear cliff of volcanic rock covered in hundreds of feet of snow and glaciers.
However it’s not just about beautiful views and wildlife viewing. It’s impossible to come to this part of the globe and not get attached to it and it’s population of critters above and below the Ross Sea. It has a complex ecosystem that is like a giant laboratory for scientists and researchers. Since this is my second trip to Antarctica, more than ever I feel attached to this pure environment.
An Oath of Antarctic Responsibility
As we crossed the Antarctic Circle, our Expedition Leader first gave us wine and then asked us to take this oath (a good strategy!)
“Crossing the Circle carries with it a responsibility – a responsibility that those explorers who went before us took seriously which is part of the reason that we are here today. They advocated for the protection of these lands and the wildlife that inhabited them, ensuring that future generations would have them to enjoy. Having endured the privations of the Roaring Forties, the rigors of the Furious Fifties and the ice strewn waters of the Screaming Sixties to cross the Antarctic Circle, pay homage to those early explorers who have not only shown the way but have demonstrated what it means to advocate for the continued protection of Antarctica and its wildlife.” Rodney, our expedition leader bellowed out as we crossed the Antarctic circle.
With that, he asked us all to take the oath, I, Sherry, hereby pledge that in accepting the Mark of the Penguin I will, until I take my last expedition, advocate to everybody, even those who will not listen, the importance of the Antarctic and its wildlife.
Sure, the ‘mark of the penguin’ was fun, but it was also serious.
Let’s Get Serious for a Moment
I’ve spent a lot of time on the expedition learning about the Antarctic Treaty. I also learned about what it took to get a small part of the Ross Sea as the largest marine protected area in order to stop commercial fishing in the world’s ‘last pristine ocean’. They tried to protect the entire Ross Sea, but geopolitics sadly got in the way. But something is better than nothing and we are at least moving in the right direction.
The Antarctic Toothfish and the Ross Sea
The Ross Sea is the most pristine stretch of ocean on Earth. Scientists describe it as our last ‘living laboratory’, a place that can teach us about the workings of all marine ecosystems. But the fishing industry recently found its way to the Ross Sea, targeting Antarctic toothfish and unless stopped, the natural balance of this unique ecosystem may be lost forever. This is the major reason for the creation of the Marine Protective Area.
The fishing is happening for two reasons – and they have to do with supply and demand:
1. Supply: The deep water Antarctic toothfish is only found in the Ross Sea. The species has been overfished in the other areas of the Antarctic and Southern Oceans.
2. Demand: That toothfish is in high demand since it demands high prices at fish auctions. It demands high prices at fish auctions because many people in the world want to eat the rare fish.
What Can You Do to Help Protect the Ross Sea?
What’s that? You haven’t ever heard of toothfish? That’s because they give it a different name when they sell it – Chilean sea bass. Chilean sea bass is a pure marketing invention — and a wildly successful one. You’ll find Chilean Seabass all over menus in the US; we are one of the big consumers, along with Asia.
We are the demand. And that demand is detrimental to the Ross Sea. It’s not just the toothfish, it’s the upsetting of the whole ecosystem when one player is taken out of it and depleted. It causes a chain of events that are already starting to become evident to scientists.
All I can say is that after being there, and learning more about the issues, I won’t be ordering Chilean sea bass any longer. Ever.
Of course that decision is yours to make. Even if you can’t make it to the Ross Sea or Antarctica, you can make a small difference if you choose to. Don’t be a part of the demand.
“I wish I could give this experience of visiting the Ross Sea to everyone of you, because if you did, you would also feel strongly about protecting it like I do now after being there. When we see something with our own eyes, walk on it with our own feet, watch penguins, seals, and whales swim by us within feet – then you would feel as connected as I do to this area too.”
This was one of my most magical, memorable, and moving trips I’ve taken in my decade of traveling the world. I was sad to see it come to an end. But I’m eternally thankful that I was able to see and experience this part of our pristine planet.
If you want to learn more about the Antarctic Toothfish – and see amazing footage from the Ross Sea and Antarctica, then check out the documentary “The Last Ocean”.
See my Ultimate Antarctica Packing List
Antarctica packing is much more than just ensuring you have warm clothes! Before you go, make sure you have all of these Antarctica items!