Visiting Antarctica – the last great wilderness on Earth

Whoever said dreams don’t come true was wrong and a bloody pessimist! For a long time I’ve dreamed of visiting Antarctica – the last great wilderness on Earth. To photograph a place of such raw beauty and unparalleled wilderness would be a privilege and a sight to behold. But it always seemed like a dream that would be very difficult to achieve, given the massive financial investment required. Well, late last year I had my wish granted and was selected as the lucky winner of the EnviroWeek competition. I won the major prize, a place on the International Antarctic Expedition in March 2010 with Robert Swan and his organisation 2041. Robert Swan was the first man to walk to both the South Pole and North Pole and a tireless campaigner for the preservation of Antarctica.

When I got the call to say I had won I was absolutely ecstatic, I just couldn’t believe that it was really happening. I went through a lot of emotions that day. You see, about a year ago I decided to leave a successful career in Marketing to pursue my dream of becoming a fine art landscape photographer. And it’s been a challenging time trying to find my way in a new career and industry. For me, winning this amazing prize was confirmation that I had done the right thing and proof that with great risks can come great rewards. I won the trip to Antarctica based on a video I had produced about my passion for the environment and photography and how I hope to contribute to the campaign to protect Antarctica and educate people about the changes we need to make to avert climate change, through a travelling photography exhibition and the creation of a global online petition.

On the 5th of March my expedition into the great unknown begins. I will fly from Melbourne to Sydney, then to Buenos Aires (Argentina), and finally on to Ushuaia (Argentina), the southern most port city in the world, located at the bottom of South America. Then we board our ship, a Russian Scientific vessel named the Akademik Ioffe, and head off into the Southern Ocean and towards the Drake Passage – the roughest seas in the world.

I am somewhat apprehensive about the boat trip and the high likelihood of suffering seasickness. It can be very debilitating with symptoms ranging from nausea, vomiting, sweating, headache and hyperventilation. Mmmm, sounds like fun! Almost every night of the trip will be spent sleeping on the ship regardless of the conditions of the ocean – even once we’ve reached Antarctica. There’s no 5 star hotels on this trip! As a photographer the other big challenge for me will be managing camera equipment in the freezing conditions without managing to get frostbite or dropping my camera overboard.

But often the greatest rewards in life require a little bit of sacrifice or pain and I have no doubt that it will be well worth the effort. Some of the images I have seen of icebergs in Antarctica are just sublime. I have my fingers and toes crossed that we will see some real monsters and beauties of ice. Not to mention the abundant wildlife to be found in Antarctica – numerous species of penguins, seals, whales, bird life and much more.

But it’s not all roses when it comes to Antarctica. There are a number of serious threats to this pristine but fragile wilderness; over fishing and illegal fishing, marine pollution, the impact of invasive species, and the big one – climate change. The effects of climate change are already impacting Antarctica in quite significant ways. Air temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula region have risen by over 2.5°C in the last 50 years, about 5 times faster than the global average. In 2002 the Larsen B ice shelf, 3,250 km² of ice 220 m thick, disintegrated and melted in just 3 weeks despite having been stable for approximately 12,000 years. With that in mind, the International Antarctic Expedition will focus on the environmental threats to Antarctica, the climate change challenge and other environmental issues around the world as human society attempts to transition to a more sustainable way of living.

Despite all of these thoughts swirling around my head, I am now just looking forward to getting there and seeing the great white land for myself. There are so many fantastic stories of intrepid explorers and heroic missions to reach the South Pole, but now I am ready to create my own story and experience of Antarctica. Who knows what it will hold for me. Look forward to part 2 when I return from my adventure.

3 Responses to “Visiting Antarctica – the last great wilderness on Earth”

  1. Josie says:

    Hi Michael.. what an inspirationional story… Can’t wait to see your photographs from the ice… Rug Up!!

  2. Johana Leek says:

    Quite a beautiful website. I recently built mine and i was looking for some ideas and you gave me a few. May i ask you whether you developed the website by youself?

    Thank you

    • michaelnorton says:

      Hi Johana,
      Thanks for your lovely complement. The website was developed by a friend of mine who is a web designer and it’s built on the WordPress platform. I came up with the general design concepts and layout first and then he worked out how to make it a reality. I’d be happy to provide his details if you are looking for someone to help you out.

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