Today was an exciting experience from dawn to dusk! We started early in the morning with the visit of Metchnikoff Point, a site on Brabant Island where a small memorial plaque has been set up nearly forty years ago to remind us about the crew and the incredible voyage of the original Belgica expedition that took place here 121 years ago. On that point the team lead by Adrien de Gerlache camped for about a week in 1898. After a steep hike on this rugged side of Brabant Island, avoiding the proximity of dozens of seals and several penguin colonies we found the memorial. No particular maintenance was required and we carefully put back in place the little statue of A. De Gerlache sheltered behind the plaque. On our way back we discovered the remains of a camp – not from 121 years ago, but much more recent. It seems to be a former, temporary scientist work camp, perhaps from the 1980s. Unfortunately, when abandoned, lots of plastic and other contaminating waste was left behind. Scandalized by such a vision in this environment we could not remain inactive and decided to clean up the place as much as possible. We returned to the Australis to equip ourselves with gloves and garbage bags and returned to the camp to pick up at least most of the pollutants that we could find (sometimes half buried in the ground). The remaining parts (wood pieces and glass bottles) had to be left on site due to lack of means to deal with it, time and space. Overall we brought back about 7 garbage bags of rubbish on board to be disposed of properly upon our return to civilization. Disappointed that we could not do more to clean the place totally we had at least the great satisfaction to have done an important task to try and do what we could to put it back in its pristine state.
Leaving the island we encountered a pair of humpback whales, a mother and her calf feeding on a swarm of krill close to the ship. The sight was amazing and reminded us what a privilege we had to be in this part of this world and to witness this.
Our next objective was to cross the Gerlache strait to reach our future research sampling stations: Useful Island, Dutiers Point and Neko Harbour. By the end of the afternoon we managed to prospect all these three locations and make plans for the next few days.
Stay tuned for the next message from the Gerlache strait!
Today was another incredible sampling day here at Melchior Island. One of the highlights of today was that we deployed the Rauschert dredge not only in shallow water (20m), but also tried it for the first time in a deeper area (75m). The Rauschert dredge is a small sledge-like device that gets pulled for 5 min from the moving ship over the ocean floor to collect benthic fauna, whereupon it gets hauled up to the surface, and the collected organism get sorted. This is used to assess the biodiversity present on the ocean benthos, inaccessible to divers. The risk thereby is, that the dredge might get stuck on a large stone, leading to either damage or even loss of the device. However, we worked together well (as you can see in the picture), everything went smoothly and we were rewarded with a rich sample of organisms.
Tomorrow we will change to a different location… more updates then!
Finally some news from the B121 team from the Antarctic Peninsula. The last few days have been extremely busy but let’s begin with with the first achievement of the mission: getting here!
The Drake Passage: We left Ushuaia on the 23rd and made our way down the Beagle Channel, turning South, passing Cape Horn and then heading south through the Drake Passage. Unfortunately headwinds delayed us for a few hours around Cape Horn, which had the effect of getting us caught in 45 knot south-westerly winds in the middle of the Drake: most of us were out, laying in our bunks trying to cope with strong sea sickness, but our captain got us safely through and we can say we survived it with pride!
On the 4th day from port we finally saw land ahead, and what a beautiful land: Antartica’s Peninsula!! What a sight… We arrived on a beautiful sunny breezeless day. For some of our team like Charlene and Franz it was the first time in Antartica, but also the more habitual others were moved by its wonders: the dark land, the white and blue shades of its glaciers, the extraordinary fauna and the charm of it all. What a privilege to be here!
We made our first sample station in Melchior Island´s – Omega Inlet, a small island group between Anvers and Brabant Island. Here we started testing the platform, all the gears, and how the work needs to get organized on board in this limited but well designed space. The past few days were extremely and unexpectedly good in weather (no wind and pure sunshine), probably a gift from the lonely continent for our endurance. The first day of testing has proved to be incredibly productive, we collected an enormous amount of samples, had three successful dives, deployed dredges, bottom grabs and caught 13 fish in the first day. Getting water samples for eDNA (developing process to detect biodiversity) sampling has shown to be working well, we have found suitable sites for conducting intertidal transects and much more. Despite troubles with our ROV (remote submarine) we got stunning footage from the under water life which we will share with you in due time. In the coming days we will explain our activities in more detail and explain the different scientific angles we are taking!
Small breakdown: So far we have collected 214 samples (including 1800 organisms), tested 14 different sampling methods, collected almost 400 GB of footage for our documentary and much more (data maps, fauna sightings, etc).
Expeditions to very remote places like Antarctica always come with the possibility that something really unforeseen happens, as we know way too well. So, a little insecurity will inevitably remain. Nevertheless, we have now retrieved our material that was kindly stored by our Argentinian colleagues at CADIC and loaded everything onto the ship. We also purchased some extra bits here and there and tested some of our equipment. We hope to leave tomorrow night. Fingers crossed for a merciful Drake passage.
After a good night of sleep we are feeding ourselves before heading to our boat the RV Australis: today the main task will be to get our previous campaign boxes from the CADIC institute to the boat and rearrange everything and test that everything works properly! Weather here is +4°C… a good preparation for the frozen planet ahead.
Sunshine, 35 °C. No, that’s not Antarctica yet. We’re currently sweating in Buenos Aires, Argentina. So far everything goes smoothly, also with all our extra luggage. We should arrive in Ushuaia tonight. Can’t wait!
Not long until will leave Belgium and head South. We are incredibly excited, slightly daunted, but most importantly we’re READY to face the challenges that the ice and the ocean hold in store for us.
For the documentary we have all the camera equipment in place. For those in the know: we will be shooting with the incredibly compact but powerful Sony A7Sii, which we’ve paired with two gorgeous glasses: a vintage 50mm Mammyia + Metabones Adapter, as well as one of Sony’s highest rated wide angle zoom lenses (G Series FE 16-35mm F2.8) to capture Antarctica’s breathtakingly vast landscape. To keep the glare out of our footage we’ve invested in one of the best filters out there, the BW variable ND filter.
So with all the best gear on our side, we’re now working closely with our director to put it to its best use and potential.
After setting up a crowdfunding campaign via kickstarter, we now have additional funds to produce a really fantastic documentary about our expedition, which will be directed by Lilian Hess.
And all our Backers made this possible! Thank you very much for your generous support all over the world. It is amazing to see so much enthusiasm about Antarctic research. Thank you!
We will update everyone through various channels with news about our expedition, the documentary production process and how we spend the funds from this crowdfunding campaign.
Currently, we are completely absorbed with the preparations for the expedition. The dates are set: We will leave Brussels for Ushuaia on the 19th of February and return on the 28th of March. Our exact departure dates from Ushuaia to Antarctica will be weather depended.