UPDATED 8 OCTOBER 2019
Expedition cruises to the Polar Regions are unlike any other cruises offered around the world. Aside from showcasing some of the most fascinating landscapes and wildlife on earth, Antarctica and Arctic cruises are primarily focused on educating guests on current environmental issues. Both these remote regions are considered our world’s most pivotal and fragile wilderness hubs and through strictly-monitored cruises, visitors soon learn about the importance of protecting our planet, wherever we happen to be.
Through everyday tasks like the sterilisation of shoes and vacuuming of their clothes, for example, people begin to understand cross-contamination and inadvertent pollution. Through the comprehensive lectures and presentations given by scientific experts, they start to grasp the kind of delicate balance needed to keep the feeding wildlife circle thriving. Education is one of the aims of responsible tourism in the Polar Regions and that’s why the great majority of passengers return home with radically enlightened views on environmental concerns. Moreover, many come home with fervent desires to do something about it – perhaps the most important consequence of all.
Polar expeditions are unforgettable and awe-inspiring travel experiences but they can also be utterly sobering. This is the only way to ensure that responsible tourism play an active role in preserving our Polar Regions.
On Polar cruises, you’ll learn about the importance of limiting pollution, of not overusing prime resources and of protecting even the smallest microorganisms so that they, in turn, may go on to feed larger species. Once home, you’ll find a myriad of ways to help limit your own impact on our planet. The most common environmental changes people adopt after visiting the Polar Regions don’t have to be colossally restrictive to your lifestyle – even the smallest of changes can have a huge impact when multiplied by 7 billion people.
Here are some of the most common:
1. Reduce Plastic Waste
Plastic is the scourge of our planet and constantly highlighted by the myriad of marine mammals and reptiles who are found starved to death, all around our planet, after having ingested too much plastic. These heart-breaking tales are no longer a rare occurrence, nowadays, and that may be the most tragic part of it all. Positively, the movement towards a plastic-free (or at least, plastic-minimal) life seems to have taken over the globe, with the banning of straws and supermarket shopping bags infecting every country, one by one. Although BIG measures are necessary, there’s a need for each individual to make changes in his/her daily life and this is the first real environmental action many Polar Region cruise passengers choose to adopt. Yes, much of the ocean pollution is due to big causes but the overwhelming majority of plastic in our oceans is household waste, so keep that in mind next time you go grocery shopping.
The detrimental consequences of even a solitary single-use plastic are huge and that’s why so many people now refuse bags as well as disposable containers, cups and plates. Follow the tips offered by Green Education Foundation to find more nifty ways to eliminate or at least reduce your plastic use.
2. Buy Zero-Waste Products
The increase in zero-waste shops in Australia has been tremendous and these specialised stores are now all over the country. You can find your nearest retailer at The Source Bulk Foods – Australia (food) and Zero Waste Stores, for plastic-free home, personal and cleaning products.
3. Reduce Your Personal Carbon Footprint & Conserve Energy
One of the most predictable responses of almost all Polar cruise guests will come towards the end of their journey. Just as they start to delve deeper into the impact we all have on our environment, and meeting expert environmental guides, everyone will invariably end up asking the same question: if I love this wilderness so much, then why am I here adding to the negative impact? We even blogged about the impact of tourism in Antarctica back in 2016. Aside from being a very natural question, it is also a very logical one, and you’ll be happy to know that, as far as scientists can tell, the benefits of tourism in Antarctica, specifically, far outweigh the negatives, thus far.
Antarctica visitors are among the most ardent environmentalists and the reason the continent is perpetually featured in ‘save the planet’ campaign is because so many of us have been there and fallen in love with the place. Put simply: this is the only continent on earth with no native population who can advocate for its protection. Moreover, the restrictions and conditions placed on cruise ships and their guests seem to be working quite well.
Nevertheless, reducing one’s own carbon footprint becomes a major priority. The best ways to do this is by carefully so selecting what one buys and how one gets around. Use a bicycle whenever possible, organize carpools with colleagues, use public transport and spend more for a vehicle with better fuel efficiency. Buy locally-grown or made products, thus reducing the emission needed to get products from abroad. Don’t buy fruit and vegetable outside their season as they’ll have to be flown in. Think about each purchase, both large and small. Improve your home’s insulation to reduce heating/cooling needs, install solar panels and switch to energy-efficient appliances. There’s literally a ton of stuff you can do to reduce your personal carbon footprint. Moreover, it’s important to keep the pressure on local lawmakers so they know that reducing carbon footprint should be treated as the priority it actually is.
4. Plant a Tree & Collect Rubbish with the Kids
Did you know that a single tree can soak up about a ton of carbon dioxide by the time it’s 40 years old? Polar cruise passengers usually do and that’s why, as the first order of business, they become environmental ninja warriors as soon as they get home. Planting a new tree at home – especially with young kids and grandkids – is a great way to see your positive impact growing and a fantastic way to educate the children in your life, who see you putting your money where your mouth is and doing something about the environmental problem you care about solving.
If you don’t have the space to plant a tree in your garden, then organize a clean-up day with some friends and their families, hitting a local rubbish hot-spot near your home that could do with a clean. Every piece of plastic you pick up cannot end up in the stomach of a pilot whale and that can only be a great thing. Visit the Clean Up Australia website for inspiration on how to best organize your efforts.
5. Compost Your Organic Waste
If you do have the space to plant a tree then you may have the space to start your own composting station. Composting is an amazing way to reduce waste and harmful greenhouse gases (released when the waste decomposes in landfills) and isn’t nearly as difficult as you may think. Join the Compost Revolution, get your local school involved and help the planet from the inside out!
6. Reduce Food Wastage
It’s disheartening to know that so many people go to a lot of effort to reduce their impact on the environment and then undo all their good work by wasting a ton of food, every single year. Food that had to be grown, produced, packaged and transported. If a visit to the Polar Regions does anything to you, it’s arguably to make you think long and hard about how easy you have it, when it comes to feeding yourself.
Almost all of Antarctica’s wildlife and much of the Arctic’s, must travel thousands and thousands of kilometres each year in order to have a decent feed, and when you consider how catastrophic it would be for just one species to go extinct – and risk unbalancing the entire food chain – it makes one appreciate the importance of every single morsel of food. So shop conservatively, freeze and refrigerate what you can, eat those leftovers and keep vegetable scraps for making stock before composting them. Don’t fill the pantry with tins and packets that’ll likely die long before you use them and learn new recipes to make preserves, pickles and jams. They last longer and are usually tastier when produce is past its best-by date.
Australians waste an estimated $10 billion worth of edible food every single year, which puts an untold (and totally unnecessary) burden on our environment, not to mention our wallets. Although a big chunk of that is within commercial sectors, Australian families are still wasting up to almost $4,000 worth of food each, every single year.
7. Encourage Young People to get Involved in Climate Matters
Young people shouldn’t be the only ones to get involved in climate strikes around the world (we have!) yet given they are the ones inheriting our planet, and our problem, they really are the most important participants. It is disheartening to read the criticisms thrown their way by countless adults who seem to be either confused or resentful of the fact that millions of teengares are demanding to be heard – but when it comes to the climate crisis our planet is facing, this is no time to be quiet. When it comes to safeguarding our planet, there are only two sides: either you’re part of the problem or part of the solution. Apathy has no role to play here at all. All these young environmental warriors want is to be heard so if you can facilitate and stand up for just one teenager in your life who wants to take an active role, then do so.
Why does all this really matter?
There’s no doubt that the single biggest threat to both Antarctica and the Arctic is global warming, alongside mineral exploitation in the latter. Just recently, Antarctica has been found to be greener than ever, with the reputed 3C temperature rise favouring the growth of moss and it seems the progress, over the last 50 years, has been swift.
Ice is melting sooner every year here than ever before in the Polar Regions and the change in temperature has also seen a change in wildlife behaviour. Where before the Adelie penguin was the most seen species in Antarctica, for example, nowadays Gentoo are seen more and more. The former was particularly adapted to much colder climates whilst the latter, more sensitive to the cold, hardly ever made it this far south. Luckily, the two cousins seem to be avoiding food fights, for now, but there’s just no way of knowing what all this means. In the Arctic, polar bears are now seen roaming closer to human habitation than ever before, in their desperate attempt to get a good feed.
The bear of the north has now become the poster-child for global warming in the Arctic and it is estimated only 25,000 are left in the wild. WWF has been active in the Arctic for at least three decades and their conservation efforts have helped Norway almost double its polar bear inhabitants and are now focused on Greenland, finding logical ways to help the wildlife and people cope with rising temperatures. You can find out more about the work that the WWF carries out in the Arctic
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Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”