Friday 30 December 2011

Arctowski Station and Half Moon Island

Having reached the northernmost of the South Shetland Islands, Elephant Is., today we’re in the heart of the archipelago: this morning we landed on King George Island, where we visited the Polish research station Arctowski. The beach in front of the station was littered with the weathered skeletons of various whales which were brought to their demise by whalers of years gone by, as well as by the occasional and much smaller skeleton of a seal or a penguin, which we assume came ashore willingly. Upon decomposition, all of them provide the nutrients for plants to grow, and at Arctowski we saw 50% of the flowering Antarctic flora: there are only two vascular plants on the white continent, and we saw vast fields covered with the light green of the small grass Deschampsia antarctica.

After combing the beach for a little while, we visited the station itself, where a very hospitable and friendly crew welcomed us with tea, coffee and biscuits, and delighted us with their interesting stories and adventures in this desolate place.
We then sailed towards Half Moon Island, a small crescent-shaped island located between the much bigger Greenwich and Livingston Islands. Cruising to get there took us some 5 hours, which was time enough to eat lunch, rest a bit and get ready for the second landing of the day.
This afternoon, the day was a bit overcast, but that did not matter as the dark sky was actually quite beautiful; and also because we all enjoyed a brisk walk on Half Moon Island; we were all happy to see the funny and –why not say it- cute little penguin chicks clumsily asking their parents to feed them; were happy to find the lonely and distinguished Macaroni penguin standing out in a sea of chinstrap penguins; and were amazed to see that 23 of our guests were so overheated after such an energetic visit, that they went for a swim! In brief, we enjoyed a varied and very exciting day in Antarctica.