How we enjoyed today at Cuverville Island! An enormous colony of Gentoo Penguins is nesting there, identifiable by their white bonnets, the least timid of those we have encountered so far. Curious, they approached us, inspecting our trousers and jackets. They listened to us talking, seeming to understand what we were saying to one another. Belonging to the pygoscelis genus, they feed off krill and fish.
Their habitat is extending toward the south as the Antarctic warms due to climate change, and consequently their population is growing. These penguins can nest on land, so they are adapting better to the effects of climate change than other penguins such as the Adélie, which needs snow for nesting.
When conditions are favorable they can breed twice during the season. After leaving Cuverville Island, the Antarctic gifted us another magic moment when we spotted a family of orcas swimming the calm waters of the Gerlache Strait as the sun set behind majestic icebergs.
Hello from the United States’ Palmer Antarctic research station, the smallest of the three scientific bases the US has on Antarctic soil. Up to 44 scientists and personnel can live here during summer. The percentage of women reaches 35% during this time of year. On the other hand, only 17 people spend winter at Palmer, this number increasing temporarily when various groups of scientists carry out short research assignments lasting a few weeks at a time.
The number of women in winter falls to just three or four. Research undertaken at Palmer ranges from biological studies of benthic invertebrates, those creatures such as sponges, starfish and cucumbers that live at the bottom of the sea, to studies of terrestrial arthropods (relatives of insects). Fun fact! It’s not all science here! There’s a collection of more than 30,000 DVDs, a jacuzzi on the terrace, and they made us a brownie that even Eva Arguiñano would find difficult to match!
The morning began with Marie Anne telling us about the Antarctic Treaty bases and the Madrid Protocol. At around 10 am, Greg invited us to visit the Argentine Carlini Base! The station takes its name from one of its most prestigious researchers, Alejandro Carlini. There we were able to learn firsthand about how the Army and Argentine researchers work hand in hand to enable the scientific missions. We were pleasantly surprised to find the chief scientist is a woman, Dolores Deregibus. During the visit, Roxana Falconero and Ayelen Ríos, researchers at the base, told us how, as a consequence of climate change, skuas (a seabird species) were taking over from giant petrels (another sea bird). It seems skuas are much more flexible as far as diet and behavior is concerned.
They are able to build their nests from moss that has grown on the land emerging after the ice has melted. The skuas are also much more aggressive and have been gradually displacing the petrels in the fight for food. In the afternoon, we had our first classes in leadership since crossing Drake Passage. These have been intensive, but great fun. Now it’s time to rest; tomorrow we have a symposium on the sea.
¡We’ve just arrived! After an extremely benevolent crossing of the Drake Passage, today we stepped foot on Antarctica for the first time. Shortly after three in the afternoon, Greg Mortimer told us to prepare for landing. We are little more than 100 meters from Half Moon Island (61.5° S, 60° W), a small isle opposite Livingston Island. Thousands of penguins, hundreds of sea lions, albatross and skuas greeted us on the beach in the rain.
After walking awhile, we arrived at Argentina’s Teniente Camara Base, where the Marine Andrés Magallanes and his team received us with juice and pastries. On returning to the ship, we were soaked to the skin with rain, but excited to the core to be in Antarctica at last.
We are writing these lines midway across Drake Passage. According to Julieta Pedrana, leader of the expedition alongside Greg Mortimer, these are the most dangerous waters on the planet. The truth is, although our crossing is proving calm, we would never say it out loud for fear our good fortune might end!
The Ushuaia, the ship that’s our home for the next 21 days, is a vessel of US origin, big enough to not feel trapped, but small enough to be cosy. The rocking of the boat is making us all sleepy. Our boundless energy of the first few days has yielded to a serenity that is good for us as we prepare for the challenges to come.
Looking out of the window, it’s all sea, as far as you can see. An intense blue ocean, reeking of salt. Leaving the port of Ushuaia, we saw our first Magellanic penguins, a huge petrel and a kelp gull every now and then. Alex saw an albatross! Tomorrow, if the weather permits, we will land at Half Moon Bay, our first contact with the Antarctic.
That’s all for now.
Hello from Ushuaia!
#ACCIONAteam has joined up now and is ready to launch our Antarctic adventure. We all met for the first time today, participants in the 2018 Homeward Bound, in what turned out to be a couple of hours of hugs, laughs and putting bodies to the faces and names we’ve spent the past year talking to online. We also got to know the people in the team behind the trip, those who dreamed it up and made it possible. It’s been an emotional day to say the least. Ana, who cries every time she is happy, caused us to dehydrate with tears. Such is her joy! We are a little weary after getting here, but very happy. After a restful sleep tonight, we’ll be ready to begin work in earnest tomorrow!