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Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Birth of South Georgia Expedition

At 6.30 am I awoke and immediately peered out the port hole of my cabin. The storm lashed cliffs and glacier-clad peaks of South Georgia stood only a mile from our ships starboard side. Grey headed Albatross glided effortlessly in the wind caressed skies, leading us to their home, the most extraordinary place on the planet. This somewhat forbidden, almost untouchable island stands ultimately alone in the middle of the Southern Ocean, its nearest neighbor 1400km away. Treacherous seas constantly batter the coastal rocks and ridges shaping beautiful surf beaten bays. Fearless animals take shelter from the savage winds utilizing the abundance from the nutrient rich ocean. Ponderous Elephant Seals, gregarious Fur Seals and posh King Penguins generously congregate on the few accessible beaches. Millions and millions of nesting Terns, Petrels and Prions flutter in and out of cracks and crevices, feeding their vulnerable young during this sporadic short-lived summer. This exceptionally isolated, storm torn island, shaped and sculptured by mother natures dramatic forces has captured my attention, and is holding me under a potent spell that I will never be free from. As hostile, as dangerous, as forbidden as if feels, South Georgia’s charm, it’s divine and ruggedly stunning beauty, has a power that I will be forever drawn to and I shall not rest until I have seen the intimacy of it all. This Sub-Antarctic island is 170km long and 40km wide and is situated along the fringes of the Drake Passage which separates Antarctica from South America in the Scotia Sea. Historically South Georgia has been described by numerous explorers; here is Captain Cook’s fierce portrayal. “A land doomed to perpetual frigidness whose savage aspects I have not words to describe”. It is an extremely important breeding island for a number of species including numerous seabirds such as Penguins, Petrels and 4 species of Albatross. For the past 8 years I have arrived by Russian ship, leading adventurous groups from all around the world to Antarctica and South Georgia, to admire this island and the animals that dwell here. For me the most majestic and mesmerizing of the species is the Wandering Albatross. The Wandering Albatross is the biggest of the Albatross species and is classified as the largest flying bird that exists on earth with a mighty 12 foot wing span. This rather lanky seabird needs at least 20 knots of wind to get itself airborne therefore they nest on steep, exposed coasts and islands amongst the tussock grass, using a small runway and a sheer drop as a launching pad. I am extremely privileged and honored to have had the opportunity to observe the grandiose Albatross that glides effortlessly on the up drafts of ocean winds, spending most of its life at sea, circumnavigating the entire globe frequently. They touch land only at an annual nesting site where they will reunite with their lifetime mate and begin the most elegant courtship behavior you could only imagine. Their wings are stretched gracefully, the tail feathers are charmingly erect and their stylish heads are poised in the most seductive stance and together they begin to dance. However behind the scenes of soaring Albatross and spectacular Petrels is the insidiously slow, almost invisible loss of lives, thinning out breeding colonies, emptying skies and threatening the very existence of 19 out of 20 species of Albatross, due to illegal fishing and poor techniques used in the Long line fishing Industry. International Seabird Conservation organizations are joining together to raise funds to implement research which will then create opportunities to alter fishing techniques to reduce seabird by-catch, simple measures to prevent so many birds dying needlessly. Myself? In January 2009, I am attempting the very First Solo Sea Kayak Circumnavigation of South Georgia Island in the Aid of the Albatross. I am hoping this epic journey will capture a fascinated audience, promote public awareness and ultimately encourage the protection for one of the most precious seabirds. The 500km journey will take approximately 5 weeks to complete due to continuously foul weather that can keep one beach bound for weeks. In 2005 the first ever sea kayak circumnavigation was only recently accomplished by an Adventure Philosophy team consisting of 3 New Zealand men, a solo journey has never been attempted. Personally I admire and respect those who not only strive to fulfill their own dreams but do so in a way that benefits others and which serve an important cause. It is this foundation that can create positive change for humanity and our planet earth.

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