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A Sri Lankans Journey to the Edge of the World – Part 1A Sri Lankans Journey to the Edge of the World – Part 1

 

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. 

The Journey : Focus on Sustainability

The whole expedition was focused on the theme Sustainability. The expedition team had invited several experts in the field of Sustainability and Climate Change to be a part of the expedition and the knowledge and experience they had to share with us was invaluable. There were many workshops, speeches, discussions, debates that took place on board the ship whenever we were not cruising or hiking in the continent.

Although everyone had heard about climate change taking place around us and most of them agree with it, I had not imagined the gravity of it and the serious and imminent danger we are in because of our own actions until I saw the facts and figures presented to us during those sessions. The rate at which glaciers are shrinking (refer the comparison pictures of the Martial Glacier), rate at which we are releasing CO2 to the atmosphere taking its possible repercussions for granted (refer www.trillionthton.org), rate at which rain forests are disappearing off the face of the earth (refer http://visual.ly/rainforest-facts) were just a few of the alarming statistics we came across. Not only did those sessions make a concept that was always known to us seem all of a sudden absolutely real, but they also re-enforced some of the known ways of managing climate change that we have always been taking for granted and introduced us to several new thinking patterns on how to tackle this problem for the betterment of generations to come.

The Journey : The Route Taken

Route to Antartica

 The Expedition route(A-The complete route, B- The Antarctica route zoomed in)

The Journey : The Daily Journal

February 28th :

All team members had arrived in Ushuaia, the southernmost city of the world by the end of the day. There were 78 enthusiastic members from 28 countries around the world gathered in 2 beautiful hotels in the city. Everyone had the same adventurous sparkle in their eyes irrespective of how many long hours they had been traveling to get here. The day was dedicated for registration, equipment and gear checks and for informal introductions. I was sharing my room with a lovely Nepalese girl and as soon as we had freshened up and finished the formalities, we set out with a bunch of other team members to explore the city of Ushuaia. No matter how tired everyone was, no one could just sit and relax when remembering the exciting journey ahead. By the time I got into bed, it was quite late. Reminding myself of the even more exciting day to be expected tomorrow, I drifted off getting a few hours of much needed sleep.

Ushuaia

Ushuaia, the southernmost city

March 1st :

I was woken up around 6am by the tiny ray of light that was falling on my face through the curtains. As I slowly got out of bed and pulled the curtains apart, the view that caught my eyes made my jaw drop. The sunrise seen from the city of Ushuaia was a spectacular site. The beautiful city at the edge of the South American continent opening up to the Beagel Channel was slowly rising up while basking in the warmth from the early morning sun.

Presentation

Rob’s first visit to the south pole in 1986 

The day started with a welcome speech by Sir Rob. While he teased us about the exciting adventurers that lay ahead he also stressed to us the enormous responsibility that lay upon our shoulders. He reminded us how lucky we are to get the chance to set foot in one of the most remote and inaccessible places in the world.  He went on to describe how Antarctica is a symbol of freedom, peace and hope owing to the Antarctic treaty which prevents any country claiming ownership of it and prevents any military activity taking place on it. Antarctica being the only continent unexploited by humans, leaving its wildlife unaware of anything called fear, is almost a sacred place and Rob made sure we understood the gravity of this journey and how much trust is being placed up on us to make us a part of this journey.

Apart from the many sessions that were carried out for the team members to get to know each other, there was a very important training session on “roping”. During this session we learnt about various knots that come in handy when we are roped to one another in our teams while doing dangerous hikes up steep mountains. There was an experienced mountaineer in Rob’s team who instructed everyone on the different roping techniques and we had a lot of practice tying different knots in preparation for our first hike coming up the following day.

Rope Training

Rope training

March 2nd :

Today was our first outdoor team activity of the program, hike up the Martial Glacier. Although the Martial Glacier is hard to miss in the Andes mountain region, if you have only seen a picture of it from a few decades ago, it might be a while before you can recognise it. A lot of its ice has disappeared owing to the increase in global warming our planet is going through. Even 2 pictures that are only around 15 years apart taken in the last decade or so indicate disappeared patches of ice. With all of that in mind, our team embarked up on our hike. There were beautiful water streams flowing down on either side of us all the way from the top of the glacier. The town, Ushuaia which is located at the base of the mountain range survives off the water from these beautiful streams. It was quite disturbing to learn that as the glacier retreats, these beautiful water streams are going to slowly disappear. That also means that pretty soon Ushuaia is going to have to find other ways of getting fresh water.article

 Martial Glacier in the late 90’s (Photo credits http://www.interpatagonia.com/paseos/glaciar_martial/)

Glacier after

 Martial Glacier in 2013

Half way up our journey, we were required to be roped up as the path was becoming much narrower and steeper. That is the first time all the rope training we got during our training started coming in handy. Those who were at the ends of the ropes were required to tag their carribenas to a figure 8 knot on the rope and those in the middle were required to tag their carribenas to a butterfly knot. The path twisted and turned as we moved upwards. Little by little we got to the top. The view from the top of the glacier was one worth every bit of the journey. But along with the excitement of getting to the top, we could not help feeling quite somber at the same time when we saw the sign posts that marked the places where the ice had been during the same time last year. Global warming is slowly killing the Martial glacier…

March 3rd :

3rd of March, being the day we would board the ship and finally start our journey to Antarctica, brought with it an amazing atmosphere. Everyone was talking to each other excitedly and hurriedly making calls and sending emails to their loved ones updating them on the details of the journey so far, as any communication once we are out in the sea might not be reliable. There were many sessions carried out during the day, all to do with safety – how to take care of yourself when we are on the ship and out on the deck, ensuring we are aware and prepared for the worst that can take place on board a ship, etc.

onboard

The sea spirit, our home for 11 days

Around 5pm, we started boarding the magnificent Sea-Spirit that will be our home for the next 11 days. It is a very luxurious ship, with a lovely ship crew as well as a group of very knowledgeable and experienced expedition staff. Once we had found our cabins and tucked away our luggage, we all went out on to the deck to witness this historical moment of leaving the safe shores of Argentina. We watched the ship’s anchors being lifted and its ropes being released and waved goodbye to those ashore starting our journey south through the Beagel Channel, to the very end of the world.

From that moment onwards, many sessions started at the ship’s lecture hall one after the other, in order to equip us with all the knowledge we would require for this journey. Most of them again were on safety. As 2041 as well as the expedition staff’s first priority was given to safety, they were not going to take any chances by leaving any important detail left behind. In addition to the safety lessons, there were also sessions on the types of wildlife we would find in the Antarctic waters and the continent and the types of icebergs and different kinds of ice and glaciers we would see (which was conducted by a glaciologist – the first time I heard of such a specialty!). We were also alerted to the most difficult part of the journey that was going to start around midnight tonight, the crossing of the Drake Passage, the roughest sea passage in the world. During this crossing, seasickness is to be expected to be felt by at least 80% of a group of people like us. Therefore we were all advised to either take the seasickness medication that was freely available at the ship’s reception or wear any seasickness patches or seasickness wrist bands people had brought with them. We all went to bed that night expecting to be rocked to sleep soon as the ship enters the Drake Passage.

Await Part 2…

 

About the Author :

Social work and travelling have always been 2 of my biggest passions. The opportunity to join Sir Robert Swan on an expedition to Antarctica to raise awareness on sustainability to help save our planet was a journey that combined both of them. I hope this rare opportunity I got will hopefully be a stepping stone to a much greater contribution I can make to the world to ensure as many people as possible embrace sustainable living.

I hold a Master’s degree in Analytics and two Bachelor’s degrees in Physical Science and IT respectively. I currently work at MillenniumIT as a Consultant. I have been involved in various social service projects within Sri Lanka as well as overseas. My most memorable involvement so far has been the 3 months I spent in an orphanage in Malawi as an Education and Youth Support Volunteer.

About MillenniumIT/LSEG :

LSEG and MillenniumIT are deeply committed towards sustainability and have invested in promoting sustainability practices in the workplace for a long time. At MillenniumIT, there are already many practices like Rain water harvesting, Recycling and Communal transportation that they have been involved in for a long time. LSEG saw the chance to send an employee on the 2041 expedition as a great opportunity and the perfect fit with their, and MillenniumIT’s current sustainability practices. The group took advantage of this expedition in order to create a sustainable champion for the group by investing in an employee to be a part of such a unique experience.

About 2041 :

In the year 2041, the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty which currently prevents any drilling or mining activity from being carried out in the continent in search of more resources for mankind, could potentially be modified or amended. The aim of the 2041 organization, founded by Sir Robert Swan, is to work towards the continuing protection of the Antarctic Treaty so that the last great wilderness on earth is never exploited.

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Nishadi

Business Analyst, Social Volunteer, Traveller

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