The Polar regions are the “engine rooms” of the world, according to Emily Gregory, the Citizen Scientist Coordinator aboard Ocean Endeavour. These regions are where ocean currents and global climate patterns are determined by massive landscapes of ice and water with no permanent human habitation. The largest of the polar regions, Antarctica is a landscape of otherworldly beauty and a destination where travellers have the opportunity to support scientific efforts that are essential to directing global environmental policy.
Ocean Endeavour is a polar expedition vessel that operates cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands, taking up to 200 passengers on life-changing voyages across the Drake Passage. It also has a crew of expert scientists aboard, who use these expeditions to gather data about the region.
A Marine Ecologist by trade, Emily thrills at the uniqueness of every trip she takes to Antarctica with Ocean Endeavour. “Sometimes you get to experience the extremes and harshness of the weather in a continent so isolated from the rest of the world,” she says. “Other times, you’re privileged to see and experience the huge extent of life this vast and productive Southern Ocean is capable of supporting, like mass feeding events of fin whales or a coordinated hunt from orca pods preying on seals.”
As Citizen Scientist Coordinator, Emily helps travellers contribute to “scientific research, data collection, analyses, and experiments” in Antarctica. To be a Citizen Scientist, “there’s no need to be an expert in the field or have a background understanding of the topic.” Rather, a curiosity and desire to help is the only prerequisite for travellers taking part in Citizen Scientist programs aboard Ocean Endeavour.
These programs vary each expedition, as every excursion in Antarctica is dependent on environmental conditions. Some projects have travellers “collecting samples from the weather to the flora and fauna in Antarctica. In certain locations we’ll stop to sample phytoplankton for Secchi Study and Fjord Phyto,” which helps measure turbidity and map the diversity of microscopic species in the surface waters. Other times, Citizen Scientists will collect photo data of species in Antarctica, including seals, dolphins, and whales for the Happy Whale platform, as well as Southern Ocean seabirds for eBird. Citizen Scientists even share cloud cover data to help NASA align their weather patterns.
This work is essential to polar research and policy. For one, it’s cost efficient compared to traditional scientific expeditions. It also captures datasets that are essential for creating environmental policy for the fastest warming region in the Southern Hemisphere. The work has also created tangible policy results. For instance, Citizen Scientist data contributed to the “implementation of the largest ship strike risk reduction plan for an area of 2,000 square-kilometres in the Antarctic Peninsula,” which has helped protect whale species. “This is one of many examples of how long-term datasets can provide valuable information for how these ecosystems are being used and where best we can focus our initial efforts to protect this critical environment and its inhabitants.”
In this engine room of the world, the work of Citizen Scientists aboard Ocean Endeavour contributes to the region’s preservation, while also providing life-changing travel experiences in one of the most hauntingly beautiful regions of the world.
This article was originally published in No. 31 of Globetrotting Magazine.
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