Finally, some beautiful weather! The sun was shining, and the animals were sunning themselves on every surface we looked at, and the birds were everywhere you looked. The wind, however, reminded us that we were still in Antarctica with some generally frigid temperatures. This day made me think of how jealous I was of the kayakers. They were able to maneuver closer to the seals and amongst the islands where our zodiacs would have run aground and stranded us in the chilly waters. That was until I recalled that adding kayaking cost of a couple thousand more than what we had already shelled out for the expedition.
Useful Island was the first block of ice we circled in the zodiac. Leopard and Weddell Seals were splayed out on the ice, soaking in the sun. The Gentoo Penguins were still awkwardly waddling about on land, periodically going belly sledding down a hill. Chinstrap Penguins were more regal, watching us zip about in the water from on high. The sun allowed us to see through the crystal clear waters to get phenomenal views of the icebergs below the surface. The bright blue color was far more brilliant. We crossed our fingers that these clears skies would last, and we would have several more zodiac expeditions like this one. Alas, the weather gods were not on our side, and this was our one and only blue sky day.
Between zodiac cruises, the expedition staff gave presentations for us naive passengers. While we skipped a majority of them, we were enjoying some adult beverages in the Nautilus Lounge when Suzi, one of the crew members, happened to be starting her talk on climate, pollution and the effects of plastics on Antarctica. Since abruptly getting up and walking out is considered rude, we decided to listen.
It turned out to be quite interesting and enlightening. She went in depth about why there is a huge push to protect the continent and its unique, fragile ecosystem. Photographs flashed across the screen depicting images of curious wildlife interacting with mysterious new objects, like the whale gnawing on a blue plastic jug. Suzi explained that plastic takes 100-400 years to decompose, and it can be found floating in every ocean on the planet. Because of gyres, the large systems of circulating ocean currents worldwide, there are huge garbage patches in all the oceans. The clusters of rubbish looked like a flooded landfill. It was more disturbing to learn that this was the smaller collection, as most of the plastic degrades and sinks to pollute the ocean floor. As the synthetic materials break down, microplastic is left behind to keep killing delicate environments and fishes. No wonder there are world-wide bans on single use plastics. Alright, off my environmental soapbox.
The next stop that day was Neko Harbor, but since I titled this with the word sunshine, it would be misleading to include that excursion. The unpleasant weather was inbound and the skies were no longer clear. However, the photos were just as striking.
Antarctica Takeaway: Spend the money to kayak. It’s a once in a lifetime trip, it is great exercise, and I did wish I was able to paddle around in a kayak to get closer to the sites. Also, I have more photos and videos than I seem capable of sorting through and choosing just a few to share. Therefore, here is a slideshow of a whole bunch more…