One day in Antarctica
By Dave Moran
It was sort of orange in a weird, wrinkly way, clinging to a seaweed-carpeted ledge. The latest in vacuum cleaners maybe! With forty five plus arms it would have the average house cleaned Antarctic white in one minute! My fingers were starting to lose their feeling, my camera felt like a lump of rock – time to head for the surface.
The day started at our southern most point of our World Expeditions exploration of the white continent at 65.06 degrees South. Your nostrils knew they were in for a treat as we approached the first landing for the day, the Yalour Islands. This was our first chance to photograph or to just sit quietly with Adelie penguins and absorb their behavioural antics. Many of the young chicks were still tossing off their moulting jackets and appeared unperturbed by their multi-coloured visitors.
The ice was covered in that four letter world starting with S and finishing with T, all very pleasant really, just try not to sit in it!
Im sure many of us on board wondered how many pictures one could take of penguins? The answer is, as long as your batteries and film last, there always seems to be a particular behaviour or interaction between penguins that just needs to eat another frame of film or gobble up a few more mega-pixels! Just being with these animals at their place on this planet was for me, a moment in my life that was all too brief, one of lifes moments to cling to.
By the time we had washed the poo from our boots we were threading the eye of a needle, as Polar Pioneers bow seemed to be heading for a solid mountain of whiteness. Slowly the southern eye of the Lemaire Channel opened. Im sure all on board pondered the courage and toughness of those early navigators who crept into these waters under flapping canvas with only a sextant and lead shotline in their hands. Lemaire will always have a special memory for me why? for all the miles I have travelled, this was the first time I have ever felt the soft kiss of falling snow on my face. Yes, Lemaire Channel and its mist-covered sentries will always remain a special place for all those who ply her waters.
Port Lockroy, home for the British Base A, Research Centre, which is, now designated as an Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty was our next landing and a chance to post a postcard home, franked Port Lockroy, Antarctica. Amanda and Pete who cheerfully man the post office took the stampede of fellow human beings in their stride. Over dinner that night aboard the Polar Pioneer, Amanda explained that our boatload of 56 visitors was nothing compared to a larger vessel which recently called in an ordered 1,000 stamps. Amandas franking arm now has the proportions of George Foreman!
This historic base gave us all a chance to sneak a glance of life in Antarctica back in the mid 1950s as we wandered through the bases old kitchen, radio room, bunkroom, bathroom, generator room, and ionospherics room. They even had a lounge and bar room! Out the back was the all important coal bunker and workshop room.
Todays tourist explorer is wrapped in cotton wool compared to those pioneering adventurers.
The unique interaction with the Adelie penguins at this base will, I am sure, be one of the memories that are firmly embedded into my long-term memory. Children the world over cry, Mum I want my dinner now now now! There goes mum scurrying through the muddy maze with junior pecking at her back Hey mum not so fast! Finally mum relents, juniors beak peppering her own, then that beautiful moment as the cameras click, mother, like mothers the world over, feeds her devoted chick.
Adjacent to the base is a small ice covered rock islet. This is where we dived, Henriks Garden of Discovery. At 15 metres down there seemed to be an abundance of food beneath the blanket of green, brown and mauve coloured ringlets of seaweed. A forty five arm starfish brought back memories of The Day of the Triffids. Bulky, four arm biscuit starfish (Porania antarctica) dotted the landscape like lost sheep on a pasture of green. Athecata hydroids blossomed from their chimneys, their many white polyps, fanning the still water for food. A white eel-like creature (Nemertina proboscis worm) breaks the brownness of the sea floor has it a head or eyes? I couldnt see any! As I departed for the surface it twisted back on itself as if waving farewell.
Our dives only gave us a brief glimpse of the complex life so well hidden amongst the profusion of kelp that descended to 20 metres. Put quite simply, it was a great dive. We saw creatures that for most of us, will be a once in a lifetime experience.
As my knife sunk into a slab of pork at dinner, I thought how fortunate we were to be in natures grandest masterpiece at a time when on the opposite side of the planet mans seemingly never-ending problems and conflicts are impossible to imagine.
The A bug had bitten me – I will dream of returning to the ice.