By John Nightingale, Ph.D., president and CEO of Vancouver Aquarium
Each year, the Vancouver Aquarium takes a group of interested individuals to unique places in the world to go exploring. This loose group, dubbed Aquarium Explorers, is now made up of over 300 people who have been somewhere on an Aquarium exploration at least once. Over the years, we’ve explored the Canadian Arctic, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Haida Gwaii, Pacific Island Coral Reefs – and in 2009, Antarctica. We have been back several times to certain locations with different groups, but we’ve only been to Antarctica once – until this year. Starting this past Sunday, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to take a second group of Aquarium Explorers to Antarctica.
The idea with this travel program is to provide the opportunity for the explorers to become immersed in a new and often very different place, and a different ecosystem from those which we are used to in our own amazing B.C. The chance to personally explore and experience new geography, different cultures, history and nature – as opposed to just watching it on TV – is compelling. Most of our explorers come back discussing what they have seen, to be sure, but they also talk about their changed perspective on nature and often themselves.
In 2009, nearly 30 Aquarium Explorers headed south, got onto an “ice capable” vessel, and spent about 13 days sailing from the tip of South America to the Antarctic Peninsula and back. Some of those explorers have since then been back on their own – visiting the “end of the world” is simply that compelling. This year, we are going back to Antarctica with a new group of Aquarium Explorers, but with a twist.
We are leaving from Ushuaia, Argentina as most non-military vessels going to Antarctica do. But, on this trip, instead of sailing straight to the Antarctic Peninsula and back, we are going via the Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island. This means a much longer trip time because it requires an extra six days to sail east to South Georgia before turning South to the Peninsula. I’ll explain why we wanted to go to South Georgia so badly in a later blog – but personally, it’s been on my “life list” forever.
Most such trips to the Antarctic continent sail from Ushuaia, a port in the very southernmost part of Argentina. That means the trip includes flying from Vancouver to Buenos Aires, Argentina before taking an internal flight further south to Ushuaia.
This is summer in the Southern Hemisphere – that’s good because we couldn’t get near Antarctica in a boat during the winter here. Just as in our northern hemisphere’s Arctic, the ocean here freezes in winter, preventing vessel travel. Summer in Buenos Aires means hot and often humid. Today it was 38◦ C, and with the humidity, it felt like 44. We stopped in B.A. (as Buenos Aires is often called) for two days of rest and adjustment to the time changes – B.A. is five hours ahead of Vancouver. We toured the city today, and will visit a unique “Bio Park” tomorrow. More about B.A. and Temaiken Bio Park in the next blog post.
I’ll be writing about our experiences during this trip, and will include photos as we go along. We are headed to an unusual part of the world, one which can “take a hold” on people. I will keep you posted during our travels.
John Nightingale, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium, is currently on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to Antarctica with a group of explorers. He is providing regular updates during the journey.