With the support of STEP and The Ohio State University, I embarked on a research-based trip from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica this December, 2017. Our large group’s research was centered around three topics: the sustainable development of Antarctic tourism & its effect on the environment, seabird conservation, and iceberg census data analysis. We travelled through the Drake Passage to visit a variety of locations around Antarctica, including: Orne Harbor, Wilhelmina Bay, Lemaire Channel, Petermann Island, Pleneau Island, Dorian Bay, Paradise Harbor, Neko Harbor, Curtiss Bay, Mikkelsen Harbor, & Deception Island.
The journey that landed me on the bottom of the earth did more than open my eyes to our world’s undeniable beauty. This course engrained both a deep understanding of human and biophysical dimensions of life in Antarctica and insight into its history and potential future state. My interest in the exploration and conservation of the mysterious, fragile continent grew more and more throughout our field experience. Through travels from Argentina to Antarctica, we viewed and analyzed the positive and negative effects of ecotourism. I believe that we need to act as vocal advocates for the preservation of this ever-mysterious continent, so that we can protect it from the negative aspects of the tourist industry and other forms of exploitation. Additionally, my critical takeaways of this experience are vast and varied. Not only was I able to further develop my intellectual maturity, my cross-cultural engagements, team positions and frequent self-reflections greatly enhanced my confidence. It is difficult to observe such an untouched environment and refrain from getting overwhelming feelings of appreciation and envy. I applied my learnings from this semester to conduct research over a combination of my favorite things: exploration and the environment.
Our team’s overall focus was on iceberg census and environmental data analysis, and idea generation regarding the potential impacts of icebergs melting. My sub-group was responsible for the analysis of the census data collected throughout our trip to and from Antarctica. The teachings from the course administered prior to our travel departure, as well as the specific readings assigned to our group focusing our team’s focus, were vital to ensuring knowledge was obtained and properly applied throughout the research assignment. The field experience substantially affected my sense of identity and growth, and widened my global perspective. Not only were we able to enjoy what the area had to offer, we were able to utilize specific knowledge to draw conclusions about our observations.
Additionally, this field experience greatly influenced my sense of global awareness throughout the journey from Argentina to Antarctica. From the beginning of our time in Ushuaia, we were exposed to the effects of tourism on a town based on the profits of this industry. Although large amounts of tourists coming to visit the bottom of the world may appear purely beneficial due to monetary benefits, there are negative elements to keep in mind. The town has an especially important responsibility to keep its ecosystem clean based on its proximity to the delicate ecosystem of Antarctica. Steps were being taken to ensure that this was accomplished, as special recycling bins were located throughout the hiking routes and store personnel only handed out paper bags to package items purchased. Although measures were taken to minimize pollution, I still viewed scraps of trash throughout the streets – a sad sight. Before our field experience, I had primarily contemplated the preservation of Antarctica focusing on the area around the continent, spending minimal time thinking about how the gateway cities must specially monitor their inhabitants’ pollution, as well.
Furthermore, our time spent in Antarctica largely expanded my global awareness. Our experience was especially interesting because our boat consisted of many passengers from different cultures experiencing Antarctica with less knowledge about the fragile ecosystem, a sole intention of observing the views and taking pictures, and/or less respect for described regulations. These factors were maximally prevalent through people’s actions when walking around wildlife. Penguin highways were stomped through, paths not followed, distances people were required to stand away from animals were disregarded, and people would encircle the penguins, overwhelming them. Because penguins are not the most intelligent animals, when overwhelmed, they may retreat into the water and never return to their egg, forget where they are going, or get startled enough to hop off their eggs – leaving them open for skuas to prey on. At times when I would witness these acts, I would be swarmed with guilt because I was an addition to the intrusion of these protected habitats. Overall, I am glad that our group of educated and intrigued students witnessed the negative aspects of ecotourism, as we are now able to advocate for Antarctic preservation. My global awareness of positive and negative aspects of life both in Argentina and Antarctica has massively expanded based on specific field experiences from this journey.
Finally, this field experience was not only educationally beneficial, it widened my sense of self-identity and aided in my ongoing personal development. I have always been strong-minded when the subject of nature and preservation arises. I believe that this experience further established my need to prioritize reusing, reducing and recycling in everyday life. Last summer I worked in the Environmental Health and Safety department of a L’Oreal manufacturing facility, where I worked to reduce carbon emissions, educate people on environmental issues, and brainstorm ideas to decrease the company’s environmental footstep. This trip further established my need to work for a company that is extremely focused on these issues. I have recently accepted a job working for Ecolab, a company that’s aim is to help make the world a cleaner, safer and healthier place. I believe that my passion for environmental sustainability must continue within my career path. Also, I feel extremely humbled by this experience. I have been privileged to visit many historic and beautiful places around the world, but Antarctica presented a new level of breathtaking. The undisturbed ecosystem reminded me to value the important things in my life, and take advantage of every opportunity. If the opportunity arises to return to Antarctica and visit the same harbors and bays, it will never look the same, as the ice melts and glaciers fall. This is a reminder to put down our phones, take out our headphones, and absorb the world around us.