Rules of Behavior

In the last ten years, the increase of tourism in the Antarctic has increased awareness of how precious the area is. Many of the abandoned man-made structures have been removed, and others have been declared historical sites. One of our guides cynically suggested the historical designation was an easy way to avoid the expense of removing the structures. Unless someone maintains them, they will collapse soon, as we saw at the old whaling station in Whaler’s Bay. Some buildings were missing whole sides and had snow piled up inside. It will take longer for the whale blubber rendering tanks to rust away. I found them a more interesting artifact, since the history of whaling in the area can be told from the structures.

Ancient Tractor

Increased tourism has stimulated an association of tour operators who all have an investment in keeping the place appealing to their clients. We were read the rules right off. No souvenirs. Don’t take feathers, rocks, sand, anything. Imagine the impact of thousands of tourists each of whom want their own handful of penguin stones.

Paradise Harbor

Unfortunately, that is exactly what I had in mind for my gifts. However, I did discover an exception to the rule. Years ago, I had read about how bad the trash pile was at the Argentine station, which put me off visiting the only site open to tourists at the time. Not only was the whole station built on a penguin colony, but their trash continued to encroach on the nesting area. One of our visits was to that station. On our tour of the dramatically changed site, we learned that one staff person had the sole duty to protect the penguins. The colony is roped off to define it and prevent trespassing after the penguins leave. The station included the school for the kids of the staff, a little museum, and a commissary where we could send a postcard with their postal stamp on it. This was one of two landings we made on the continent of Antarctica and I am now one of fewer than 200,000 people who have set foot there.

Only later, while we waited for our ride back to the ship did I make the connection to the trashy station. We were near a large building where trash was sorted for appropriate disposal. One of the guides affirmed that the Argentineans had cleaned up after the international agreement among nations was created. But, he added, there was still small stuff in the rocks behind the sorting building. I asked if anyone would mind if I took some of the bits, and he lit up at the novel idea, even said the tour operators association might make me a member if I did. So I sauntered over, studied the few nests and birds nearby in case someone was watching, and scuffled the stones with my boot, unearthing the bent nails, washers, brittle cable and my prize, two angle irons held together with a large bolt. All very rusty. This could be a new activity for tourists. Trash removal. Bring home a genuine piece of Antarctica trash. I encased my rusty treasures in plastic with a label and gave them to friends.