The Antarctic at Peril

Waking to the news that the M/S Explorer was foundering in the Antarctic, I was struck with a wave of nostalgia. I travelled on the ship last year on a voyage in the High Arctic amongst the pack ice and the polar bears, and always held the hope of one day travelling with it to the Antarctic.

The ship was pretty unique: an expedition ice-breaker it allowed normal people to go to some of the most remote places in the world. Unlike most of it’s competition it was small (taking only around 200 people when full) and certainly was not a luxury cruise for the rich. It was old, and the decor was somewhat tatty, but everyone who went on the ship loved it.

In the High Arctic, we spent days slowly pushing through the pack ice searching out polar bears and those places that the other ships couldn’t go.

The crew were an eclectic bunch of ecologists, naturalists and polar veterans. With them on board, I am not surprised that everyone managed to abandon ship safely. This was no doubt helped by the expedition nature of the ship: passengers would have embarked and disembarked a number of times on the voyage already, taking to Zodiac inflatables for excursions.

Predictably, the sinking of the M/S Explorer has already lead for calls to stop tourist ships visiting the continent. Whilst I would support a strict code of practice to stop the Antarctic ending up like the virtual zoo, which the Galapagos is in danger of becoming, the simple fact is that far more damage is being done by climate change than by any number of ships in the Antarctic. If we want to save the Antarctic, then we have to curb our excesses and moderate our rampant and ceaseless consumption of the world’s natural resources.

When things survive in isolation, it is much harder to conserve them. Responsible travel will not damage the Polar regions, and I defy anyone to visit them and not come away awed by their beauty and committed to their preservation.

Words & Pictures © Steve Davey/ 2007

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