Another day in Antarctica: complete white out by fog and windswept snow, windspeed was a steady 60 knots with gusts up to 90 and 100 knots. The rugged zodiacs cut through the choppy waters. As long as the zodiac boats are weighted by a full passenger load they hold their course. When it is only the driver, the boat is too light and has the potential to be tossed over by waves.
Point Lockroy, the British science station was still closed since it was early spring and tourist ships wouldn't start to arrive for another few weeks. We had permission to visit the former amy station, then science station now turned museum, since a group of our guides volunteered to dig out the path from the shore to the historic cabin and the Nissen hut where the stationed scientists and museum employees, who would arrive in a few weeks, live for the summer season. The station is surrounded by penguins who are clever in that they use the protection the building offers from wind and snow as nesting areas.
Who lives closer together - the creatures on the inside or the outside?
Inside the hut, I found a guestbook with entries from around the world - not scientists but tourists brought here by ships. Are the edges of this wild continent a tourist attraction ? Like Shamu the captured Orca forced to perform at Seaworld? A big wild animal put into a controlled environment? Are these tourist ships a way for us to access and better understand this bigger than life mysterious continent or are people coming here to merely check off a box on their long “to see" lists? The visitors rules that regulate the number and size of ships as well as number of people allowed on land made me feel a bit more at ease: Animals have the right of way, always. The impact of visitors is surveyed and so far no adverse effects on the landscape or the penguins have been noted. The museum gift shop brings income to fund future conservation and research of the area.
The history of Port Lockroy drives the significance of the Antarctic treaty home. The station served the British Army during WWII. I imagine what would have become of this continent if the 12 nations that signed the original treaty that is internationally accepted and respected wouldn't have agreed on the importance to preserve the neutrality of Antarctica with the inability for any nation to claim any parts of this large continent.
As I am writing this, 190 nations are gathered for the climate conference in Paris, France. If the nations of our world can commit to conserve a whole continent that is rich in minerals and could be exploited in several ways, I should be able to hope that 190 nations can not only agree but also commit to regulating and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to halt global warming with its complex consequences.
I am curious about the process that lead to the successful implementation of the Antarctic treaty. What can we learn from this process? Granted, the group meeting in Paris right now is at least ten times larger which makes for a more complex group dynamic. The stakes are higher too which should outweigh the group size. After all, global warming will not only affect areas above and below 60 degrees south and 60 degrees north. Our world is a complex system. The glacier that melts in Antarctica ultimately affects islands around the equator and shorelines in Rhode Island and California.