As our Antarctica: Gay Expedition heats up, we wanted to address some burning questions about the environmental impacts of visiting the 7th Continent. To do so, we turned to Allison Kean, Operations Manager at Quark Expeditions, a leader in polar travel.
Thanks for doing this interview! We’re super excited in the Out Adventures’ office to finally check the seventh continent off our bucket list. First, what role do you play at Quark?
Operations manager – I’m responsible for all our permits, purchasing and shipping of equipment etc. I also oversee our sustainability programming and initiatives, both on our fleet and in head office.
What are the specific environmental concerns surrounding Antarctica?
Number one, the melting ice which impacts not only the marine wildlife but birds and the entire planet as well. Whatever happens at the ends of the earth (polar regions) impacts us all. Also, the increased tourism can impact these sensitive environments.
What have been the areas of greatest concern regarding tourism and cruises in Antarctica?
Certainly the physical impacts of tourism on the fragile regions and the fauna there. Also, the fuel used by ships operating in these areas is a big concern. And finally, bio-security issues in Antarctica that could impact the environment — for example, the introduction of seeds, transporting pathogens, possible diseases in our food waste such as poultry products etc.
So follow up question, what has Quark done or is doing to mitigate said areas of concern?
Well, by operating small (200 or less) ships, we lessen the impact on the region. Having low numbers allows us to adhere to IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) landing guidelines while not restricting the passenger experience.
We also educate staff with Quark Academy to be the best representative for the regions we operate in and therefore creating the best in the industry.
We also implement small-scale changes across all customer touchpoints: eliminating the use of straws and other one-use plastics, we supply reusable water bottles, encourage water conservation by reusing towels and lessen laundry use.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we educate passengers to become polar ambassadors who are passionate about preserving these important regions.
Due to the fragile Antarctic ecosystem, many people argue it’s unethical to travel to the seventh continent. What is your stance on the issue?
Tourism is and should continue to be a driving force in Antarctic conservation. First-hand travel experiences foster education and a better understanding of the destination and the need for responsible tourism. Visitors to Antarctica — representing more than 100 different nationalities on average per season — return home as ambassadors of goodwill, guardianship and peace.
I’ve heard travellers are more likely to donate to Antarctica Protection Charities/Organizations if they’ve personally visited the destination. Do you think this is true? Are we actually seeing money flowing back into organizations interested in preserving Antarctica from the people who’ve visited?
Once people experience Antarctica first hand, they are personally transformed and deeply moved by their experience. This kind of connection facilitates their desire to make a difference.
On board, we often host auctions with all money collected going right back to the charities we support.
We often take scientists and experts to do their work while travelling with us, so passengers witness firsthand the impact their money has in the areas we operate. Quark and our passengers raise hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in donations and in-kind opportunities for citizen science.
What kind of programming or educational components do you include in your expeditions to ensure guests walk away from the experience more informed?
The educational component of our programs encourages learning from the start of the voyage all the way through to disembarkation. On our cruises we host daily presentations, workshops, lectures and bar talks with historians, biologists, glaciologists and more. Many of these have a conservation slant.
On a lighter note, why do you think people are so drawn to Antarctica, despite the tumultuous journey, freezing cold weather and generally desolate landscape?
- Because it’s the end of the world, the 7th and most rarely visited continent
- To check it off their bucket list
- To visit one of the world’s last remaining pristine wilderness areas
- To reconnect with themselves and the world around them
- To escape daily life and disconnect
- Bragging rights
What do you hear most often from the travellers who do have the privilege of visiting Antarctica?
That they are transformed when they come back. Often we hear the trip is much more than they expected, that they wished it was longer and they are counting down the days until they return. The most common thing we hear: Antarctica is indescribable.
What’s your experience with Antarctica? Have you been? What did you love most?
I’ve been to Antarctica twice. The power of Antarctica can be overwhelming and often brings people to tears. The end of the voyage is also an emotional time and special bonds are formed after individuals have shared the magical experience of Antarctica with their fellow passengers.
Finally, what’s the gay-scene like in Antarctica? I hear there’s a very gay and proud penguin population. 😉
Everyone should flock to Antarctica it’s FABULOUS!
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(Image credits from top to bottom: Allison Kean x 2, Robert Sharp, Karen Jacot, Quark Expeditions, Robert Sharp x 2)