As you’ve probably heard in the news, the Council for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) recently announced the creation of the world’s largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Ross Sea (see press release here). This is, without a doubt, a major success in our efforts to preserve the most pristine marine ecosystem left on Planet Earth, and making sure that the living organisms that inhabit this system are protected from exploitation.
The fact that the Ross Sea remains largely untouched by humans is not difficult to imagine, when we consider that we are talking about the southernmost sea in the world. An area that is hard to reach even these days, with fancy C-17 and C-130 planes, more often than not things don’t work out and your travel arrangements get cancelled, thanks to cranky Mr. Weather. Indeed, it wasn’t until the late 1800s when the first explorers discovered the Ross Sea, and only a little over 100 years humans finally made it ashore on Ross Island (where McMurdo Station sits today), and established a semi-permanent presence in the area. Now, the Ross Sea is home to a handful of permanent research stations with a summer season human population of over 1000 people (and close to 300 in winter months).
Several of the early expeditions made it through McMurdo Sound. Expeditions led by some of the biggest names in Antarctic exploration, such as Robert F. Scott and Ernest Shackelton. In those
days (early 20th century), there was nothing here to offer shelter against the inclement Antarctic weather, so they had to carry everything on their ships. And I mean everything. From the food to sustain people and animals (yes, they brought domestic animals too, dogs and ponies), to all the building material they used, to scientific equipment and the gear they needed to survive their endeavors.
To this day, these huts are still here, as silent witnesses of those years when exploring Antarctica was still in the bucket list of humanity. And they remain almost untouched, as if they are waiting for the return of their original inhabitants anytime now. Everything was left behind, food, toothbrushes, scientific equipment, furniture, sleeping bags…
One of the most incredible things about having the opportunity to visits these huts, is checking out the pantry shelves, and see what kind of food they had in those days. When I compare with the options today, with a galley, 24 hours pizza, cookies and waffles, three bars (including a coffee house), I kinda am happy my survival here does not depend on dry meats and canned food for weeks or months. I mean, how much canned cabbage can a human need to survive????