An Introduction to Antarctica

I made it! Antarctica, my 7th continent.

The easiest way to get down there as a tourist is via a cruise, typically leaving from Ushuaia, Argentina or Puntas Arenas, Chile. If you are really flexible with your time, feel free to head down there between November and February and hop on a ship with an open spot, you can get a great discount!

Most cruises will go to the Antarctic Peninsula which is exactly were my ship went. I’d highly recommend a small ship, seriously the smaller the better, as bigger ships have more limitations placed on them when going ashore.

One thing that all visitors to Antarctica quickly learn about is IAATO and the Antarctic treaty. I believe that this excerpt from the IAATO website gives the best explanation of it:

“Twelve countries active in Antarctic scientific research signed The Antarctic Treaty December 1, 1959. The treaty came into force June 23, 1961, designating the entire continent as “a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science” and creating an unprecedented global partnership that today includes nearly 50 countries. The Treaty is augmented by the Environmental Protocol that sets standards for all human activities, and which aims to ensure that those activities are planned and conducted in a way that limits adverse impacts on the Antarctic environment.

“Treaty Parties come together once a year at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM). As an invited Expert since 1992, IAATO participates in annual ATCMs, providing expert advice on tourism-related issues. In its role as representative for the Antarctic tourism industry, IAATO also submits Information Papers and contributes to discussions by the Antarctic Treaty party delegates.”

Some of the ways that this specifically affects tourists is by limiting the number of people who can come ashore, the thorough cleaning and scrubbing of boots upon both exiting the ship and returning so as not to spread particles among different sites, and the distance between humans and wildlife (15 ft for penguins and  45 feet for seals; this does not apply if they come to you). Stepping on any plant life is also forbidden as it takes a lot of hard work to grow in this cold and dry climate.

As part of the safety orientation, you learn about the enclosed lifeboats and the immersion suits. The suits can keep you warm for up to 48 hours in cold water.

Before going ashore for the first time we had to have all of our bags and outer layers inspected and cleaned. Basically anything that we were planning to bring ashore, except for new items, needed to be cleaned and vacuumed out.

We were briefed on the importance of putting your camera in a dry bag while on the zodiacs as seawater could easily affect their function. And of course on the importance of not using flash around wildlife.

 

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