Note from the Editor – Earlier this year Nishadi Malalgoda from MillenniumIT got the golden opportunity to embark on an incredible journey to Antarctica. In this series of articles, Nishadi takes us through her journey and her novel experiences. We believe the articles will give you a better understanding on the sustainability of our ecosystem and the science behind it. This is the second article on Nishadi’s experiences. The first article can be found here.
March 4th :
I woke up early morning feeling the rocking of the ship and quickly wanted to go near the balcony to watch what the sea looked like. But that was not an easy task as the moment I stepped on to the floor, I had to hold on to my bed again to stop myself falling. I inched towards the balcony and sat on a heavy chair. The sea was not the calm waters we saw in the Beagel Channel. It was full of quite rough waves smashing against the ship’s walls constantly, even sending sea spray on to the 5th floor balcony I was sitting in.
Because of the seasickness tablet I kept taking every 8 hours since yesterday, I was able to keep my head up. But I definitely felt the unmistakable signs of seasickness. As I went down to breakfast, I had to hold on to the support railing on the wall. It was lined with sickness bags people could use in case of emergency. Most people were in the same state as I was. There were a few lucky ones who just didn’t feel any difference and another few unlucky ones who felt it really bad irrespective of any remedies and had to stay in bed all day. The day was quite lightly arranged with optional sessions like revisiting knots and wildlife identification for those who feel healthy enough to attend. The others were advised to stay in bed to avoid getting sicker until the worst of the Drake passage was behind us by the next day morning.
March 5th :
Drake passage came to an end in the morning today and the first sighting of the Antarctic continent was supposed to happen any minute towards lunch time. The ship’s rocking stopped and the waters became calmer than you could imagine. Every now and then there were announcements going on the ship’s speaker about sightings of humpback whales and orcas (killer whales) all around the ship, most of the time mere meters away. The blow of a whale, i.e. the spraying of water high up into the air which they do from the top of its head time to time is the easiest way to identify a whale even when they are far away in the horizon.
The first iceberg came into view around mid-day which was one of the most exciting events. Once we had sighted the first iceberg, they just kept on appearing everywhere. On the radar screen at the ship’s bridge, i.e. the control room of the captain, you could see iceberg’s lining our path in a 360 degree angle. The first part of the Antarctic continent that we saw was the Smith island which was again another exciting event. An island of mountains, completely covered in snow was a breathtaking view.
Before we were to do our first landing, again a whole bunch of safety sessions were held reminding us on how to look after ourselves, this time also including rules on approaching wildlife, i.e. penguins and seals we would soon meet. We did our first landing at Mickelson harbor. We got onto small boats called Zodiacs in groups and made our way towards the Mickelson harbor. We could spot the penguins dancing around on the snow around the shores from quite far away. This first colony we saw contained of Gentoo penguins. It was the “mulding” season of baby penguin chics which is when they shed their soft feathers to build up the water proof feather layer and therefore the whole area was covered in snow in addition to snow. Until the penguin chics are able to go into water to hunt, their mothers and fathers were around for feeding them.
Also in the shores next to penguins were several Fur seals, who were either dozing off or were growling at each other and engaging in small playful fights. With penguins we tried to maintain at least a 5 meter distance where as with the seals we maintained around a distance of 10 meters owing to the sight of their sharp, pointy teeth.
March 6th :
The expedition team went camping in the snow,on the shores of a beautiful little island called “Ronge” island absolutely covered in snow. We built walls of snow around the areas we would sleep into protect ourselves from the chilly wind. We all slept next to one anotherinside sleeping bags wearing on average 5 layers, just on the snow under the starry skies. Just getting inside the sleeping bag on the snow wearing all those layers and getting comfortable was challenging enough. But as the temperatures dropped to levels you don’t fancy finding yourself in, while stranded in the middle of an island in Antarctica, there is nothing other than the spectacular starry skies with shooting stars and satellites and constellations that were unheard of, that could help you get through the night.
Looking at that beautiful black blanket with a million fireflies stuck in it while freezing my whole body out, I hardly slept. By morning, ice had built all around my sleeping bag and my backpack. We had to pack up all our stuff and break down the snow walls we had built which was as hard as building them as they had hardened themselves over the night. Although I was cold, hungry and badly sleep deprived, I came back to the ship again with a heart leaping with pride for surviving a night of camping on the Antarctic and also with a picture in my mind of the t-shirt I am going to buy at the ship’s gift shop which reads “Antarctic Camping Survivor”.