Antarctica The White Continent

Whenever I thought about Antarctica, The White Continent, all I could think of was the Drake Passage. Given that the turbulence and drama of the Drake with potential seasickness, cold, unpredictable weather, and endless snow and ice it was at the bottom of my places to-go list !  

However, Ole Liodden (scientist, wildlife conservationist and photographer extraordinaire) of WILD PHOTO convinced me otherwise. I decided to go. I signed up for a small ‘photographer only’ expedition with WILDPHOTO.  In reality, the small group turned out to be 75 photographers.  

Sample video of the same weather and conditions that I encountered on my two crossings.
The Drake Crossing

The Drake Passage is 1000 km of ocean. Significantly, it is where the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Seas converge. The turbulent currents of the Drake Passage make it one of the most treacherous and dangerous bodies of water in the world. The crossing takes around 48 hours, depending on the weather. Approximately 1 in 4 crossings will be turbulent with swells that can reach up to 8 metres making the crossing very unpleasant. 

My fears of the Drake were not unfounded, as both my crossings were horrendous. In light of this, most of the passengers, including me, were confined to our cabins for both crossings. We consequently dosed up on various anti seasick medications to make the crossing bearable.

The beauty of Antarctica

It is hard to describe the beauty of Antarctica the white continent. Its vast white pristine landscapes are covered with thick snow, ice, massive white icebergs and fantastic wildlife, particularly the penguins, which are the most common birds in Antarctica. 

Sunrise in Antarctica 
The White Continent
Sunrise in Antarctica

It is also tough to adequately capture this destination’s true essence and beauty in a photograph or describe the immense grandness of Antarctica’s unspoiled natural beauty. 

As they say, sometimes one has to let the photos tell the story, which I will try and do in this post.

Map of Antarctica
Map of Antarctica
antarctica facts
  • It is the coldest, driest, windiest (wind speeds up to 322 km/hr) and iciest place on earth
  • It is the southernmost continent and the fifth largest continent, consisting of around 14 million sq.km 
  • There are approximately 30 different countries operating 80 research stations situated in Antarctica. During the summer months there are around 4000 people working in these stations, in winter there are around 1000 people
  • It is a desert – it has very little rain or snow 
Antarctica snowy landscape

Antarctica The White Continent
Snowy landscape
  • It is the most remote region on earth
  • Antarctica is only accessible between November – March 
  • Made up of enormous amounts of ice which form as a result of snow that doesn’t melt. The ice forms into thick sheets which result in glaciers, ice shelves and icebergs 
  • There are no trees or bushes; the only plant life is algae and moss that can grow in such cold conditions 
  • This continent belongs to no country, has no currency, non-visa entry, no golf courses, no shopping – yet it attracts more than 55,000+ tourists annually (2018/2019 stats) with expected numbers of tourists to increase by 17% annually
  • The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959, with 48 countries as signatories
  • Purpose of this Treaty is to jointly be responsible for the continent to keep it protected, free from crime and exploitation… ‘a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science’
  • Antarctica has never been to war, has no military presence, there has never been a murder
Antarctica sunrise

Antarctica The White Continent
Antarctic Sunrise
  • The continent is uninhabited with humans apart from a few scientific bases
  • Antarctica is home for whales, penguins, seals, albatrosses, birds and a variety of other wildlife.
  • It is home to the southern most active volcano in the world – Mount Erebus 
Old whaling 
Antarctica The White Continent
Old whaling station
old whaling station
Antarctica The White Continent
Old whaling station
Getting there

There are two ways to get to Antarctica. Generally speaking, the most popular way is by ship departing from Ushuaia, the southernmost tip of Argentina. Crossing the Drake Passage takes two days each way.  The other is a fly/cruise, a two-hour return flight into Antarctica, then boards a ship in Antarctica for the duration of their voyage. Furthermore, flying avoids the horrendous Drake Passage crossing. In any event, the weather is often unpredictable and unsuitable for planes to fly into Antarctica. This does cause delays in boarding cruises.

MS Ushuaia Ship to Antarctica 
Antarctica The White Continent
MS Ushuaia, my home for two weeks
When is the best time to go?

Antarctica has only two seasons – summer and winter. Summer is from October – February when the temperatures are around -7° to 2°C. Therefore, it is only possible to visit Antarctica in summer. Winter temperatures range from –15°c to -20°c when it becomes too treacherous to visit.

Another key point is to go at the beginning of summer. For this reason, being the first tourists to land on the snow, will guarantee unspoiled snow with no human footprints.  

Wildlife

My personal favourite was the penguins. All visitors must maintain a distance of 10 metres or more from all wildlife. The penguins were not concerned with human presence as they are so used to visitors. However, they are very curious and often come close to you if you sit still, remain quiet and wait.

Gentoo penguins by the thousands

Antarctica The White Continent
A group of Gentoo penguins
Gentoo penguins courting
Antarctica The White Continent
Gentoo penguins courting
Gentoo penguin highway
Antarctica The White Continent
Gentoo penguin highway
A trio of Gentoo penguins
Antarctica The White Continent
A trio of Gentoo penguins
Chinstrap penguin portrait
Antarctica The White Continent
Chinstrap penguin portrait
Chinstrap penguins traversing the ice
Antarctica The White Continent
A group of Chinstrap penguins traversing the ice
Chinstrap penguin
Antarctica The White Continent
Chinstrap penguin
Penguin predators

Interestingly, the penguins did not appear to fear human presence. However, they were very alert to predation by elephant seals and Weddell seals. At the same time, the penguins were also alert to Skuas and sheathbills, who prey on penguin eggs and chicks.

Elephant seal
Antarctica The White Continent
Elephant seal
Majestic Weddell seal
Antarctica The White Continent
Majestic Weddell seal
Skuas ~ predatory birds
Antarctica The White Continent
Skuas ~ predatory birds
Sheathbills ~ predatory birds
Antarctica The White Continent
Sheathbills ~ predatory birds
blue-eyed cormorants
Antarctica The White Continent
Blue-eyed cormorants
Icebergs
Antarctica The White Continent
Icebergs
Antarctic sunset
Antarctica The White Continent
Antarctic sunset

Antarctica Conservation Status

Before the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, some whales and seals were nearing extinction. Garbage was discarded and left on the land and in the ocean. Fishing was unregulated, and penguins and other bird colonies had their eggs harvested due to human activities. Once the Antarctic Treaty was created, it raised greater environmental awareness, which led to more strict regulations.

For example:

  • It is prohibited to capture or kill wildlife without permits and only for scientific reasons
  • Refrain from any interference with any wildlife
  • All discharges from ships and bases into the seas around Antarctica is strictly prohibited (toxic chemicals, oils, plastics, rubbish)
  • Treated sewage and food waste from ships may only be discharged 23 nautical km off shore
  • Mining is prohibited
  • Do not remove any flora or fauna
  • No introduction of any non-native flora or fauna
  • Keep out of protected areas
  • Domestic animals are not permitted due to the possibility of introducing diseases, such as canine distemper which can infect seals
Enormous icebergs
Antarctica The White Continent
Enormous icebergs
Antarctic reflections
Antarctica The White Continent
Antarctic reflections

Antarctica still remains a remote, lonely and desolate continent. A place where it’s possible to see the splendours and immensities of the natural world at its most dramatic and, what’s more, witness them almost exactly as they were, long, long before human beings ever arrived on the surface of this planet. Long may it remain so” ~ Sir David Attenborough

Harsh weather conditions in Antarctica
Antarctica The White Continent
Harsh weather conditions
Please enjoy this short video on Antarctica

References

https://www.livescience.com/43881-amazing-antarctica-facts.html

https://www.britannica.com/place/Antarctica

https://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/science/conservation.php

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