Shackleton: Historic Explorer and Modern-Day Hero

July 19, 1999 | Tags: Americas, Arctic

Karen Gruber, July 1999

Antarctica Sir Ernest Shackleton

Anyone who has traveled to Antarctica will immediately know the significance of that name. Shackleton was one of the greatest Antarctic explorers of our time; the story of his fateful voyage on the Endurance and how he and his crew of 27 survived nearly two years on the Antarctic ice is an inspiration to any visitor to this isolated region. Why 77 years after Shackleton's death is he now getting the attention of so many people? Timing perhaps. The Endurance ordeal coincided with World War I and the impact of Shackleton's story was secondary in comparison to the drama on the battlefields. All that has changed. The Antarctica Ernest Shackleton story has recently gained a large audience due to a snowball effect of media exposure; one of the most perseverant leaders in expedition history is again making headlines.

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition

Over the last few months there has been a literal explosion of interest in Antarctica and Ernest Shackleton, sparked by the release of Caroline Alexander's book, The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, which includes some never-before published photos by expedition photographer, Frank Hurley. The American Museum of Natural History assisted in the production of the book, and in turn has opened an exhibit honoring Shackleton, curated by Alexander. An IMAX film and NOVA documentary, both based on Alexander's book, are currently being produced and directed by acclaimed director, George Butler.

South Georgia Island & The Weddell Sea

Ernest Shackleton's epic tale of survival and courage began with dreams of being the first expedition to cross the Antarctic continent. En route, the Endurance became beset in the ice deep within the Weddell Sea and drifted with the pack for ten months before finally being crushed and sunk in November 1915. Shackleton's party sledged lifeboats over the ice toward Paulet Island, eventually taking to the sea, and landing on Elephant Island. After setting up a small camp at nearby Cape Wild, Shackleton and five other men first braved the freezing, stormy ocean in their 22-foot lifeboat, the James Caird, on an 800-mile journey to South Georgia Island. Then, he and two of the men traversed the 6,000-foot mountain range to reach help at Stromness, a whaling station on the opposite side of the island. Once back in South America, the Chilean government gave Shackleton use of a small steel-built steamer, the Yelcho. One hundred and thirty-six days after he left the main group of his party on Elephant Island, Shackleton returned to rescue his men. Not one man perished.

Ernest Shackleton's Leadership

One of the most captivating aspects of the Endurance's story is Shackleton's leadership. He never allowed his crew to become discouraged, even when their ultimate survival seemed next to impossible. Although some argue that the Endurance expedition was a complete failure, the prevailing thought is that it exemplifies one of the greatest triumphs of human will over the awesome force of nature. And at the heart of that triumph is Sir Ernest Shackleton. Perhaps this quote from Sir Raymond Priestley, a member of Shackleton's earlier expedition on the Nimrod, puts it best: "For scientific leadership, give me Scott, for swift and efficient travel give me Amundsen. But when you are in a hopeless situation, when you are seeing no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."

Unlocking the Secrets of the Kurils

July 19, 1999 | Tags: Asia

Stretching for some 750 miles from Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, to the toe of Russia's Kamchatka peninsula, the Kuril Islands were until 1990, closed to the outside world. Often shrouded in fog and relentlessly marauded by the forces of wind and sea, these dramatically beautiful islands are mysterious and fascinating.

The first morning out from Kushiro, Japan on our expeditionary voyage we realized that we were in a strange and magical corner of the Pacific Ocean, an area rarely explored. As we steamed along the east side of the Kurils, hundreds of seabirds followed along wheeling and banking just above the water's surface. Countless northern fulmars, Laysan albatrosses and tufted puffins welcomed us to their world. Several pods of orcas were spotted from the ship's deck. Sea lions and sea otters peered at us with great fascination as we sailed. We spotted massive sperm whales as they lolled on the surface. Our numerous Zodiac landings on islands uninhabited by humans for centuries revealed an array of fascinating sights from the remains of aboriginal Ainu villages to glimpses of brown bear and red fox.

Our naturalists pointed out wildflowers with such wonderful names as chocolate lily and alpine azalea. Many opted to hike inland across the tundra amongst the dwarf willows and stone pines while others chose to search for beach treasures such as the Japanese glass balls that had washed ashore. On land, it soon became clear that this was a bird watcher's paradise. Yellow wagtails and long-toed stints flew about the beaches and creek mouths. Siberian rubythroats seemed to sing from every bush, their neon red throats gleaming against the backdrop of snow-covered volcanoes.

These are indeed islands born of fire with steaming sulfur vents, remnants of black lava flows and volcanic peaks rising sharply from the ocean floor. Our shipboard geologists explained the powerful forces at work in the Kurils that continue to shape these ever-changing islands. We were able to see this first-hand as we sailed into a caldera on Shimushir Island's north side formed after the violent eruption of an ancient volcano. The ocean had subsequently worn down the rock walls of the crater and seawater rushed in to form a lake. But this was not any caldera: this was the site of a top-secret Russian submarine base into which no ship flying a foreign flag had ever ventured.

As the morning fog lifted to expose the entrance to this hidden harbor and our Captain deftly guided our expedition vessel, we were awestruck by the fact that we were indeed the first foreigners to venture into this secret spot. We explored the ramshackle buildings at the base that had been abandoned hurriedly after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Books and other items were strewn about the buildings as if the residents had only just left. There were identification charts of U.S. warplanes and other remnants of the Cold War. For everyone onboard, it was truly an incredible day on a voyage that we will all never forget.

The Shackleton Expedition

July 19, 1999 | Tags: Antarctica

Sir Ernest Shackleton was one of the greatest Antarctic explorers of our time and the story of his fateful voyage on the Endurance and how he and his crew of 27 survived nearly two years on the Antarctic ice is an inspiration to any visitor to this isolated region.

On the following pages, naturalist and lecturer Carmen Field shares with us the fascinating history of the expedition and offers historical insights on Shackleton points of interest you can visit on our upcoming voyage to South Georgia Island. Her husband, artist and naturalist Conrad Field, provides an artistic perspective, complemented by stunning South Georgia photography by Peter Harrison and Shirley Metz.

A Talk with Dr. Paul Ehrlich

July 19, 1999 | Tags: Uncategorized

Kathy Ricketts Reitinger, July 1999

In 1965, as a young biologist at Stanford University, Dr. Paul Ehrlich traveled around the world on a sabbatical research trip to study the taxonomy, evolution and ecology of butterflies -- the focus of his scientific career. Ironically, he found that the native flora and fauna on even the most remote tropical islands had been damaged or destroyed by humans to make way for agriculture and housing. In addition, the cities of Third World countries he visited were alarmingly overcrowded and impoverished. Three years later, he published The Population Bomb, a revolutionary book which predicted worldwide famine and widespread disaster if the current rates of population growth were not slowed. Thirty years later, the global population growth has slowed and it seems possible that we will be able to eventually control and stabilize population.

Zegrahm News recently traveled to Stanford University to discuss with Dr. Ehrlich his current feelings about the world's population and his predictions about our future on the planet.

You introduced the equation, I=PAT, which illustrates the impact of any human group upon the environment: Impact = Population x Affluence (consumption) x Technology. When you first proposed this equation, you felt that "P" was the most critical in controlling and reducing human impact on the Earth. Do you still think that population growth is the most critical problem facing us today?

Not anymore. Although the world is still vastly overpopulated, the past 30 years have shown that population can be controlled. People can be convinced that it may be in their best interest to produce smaller families. However, no one has any idea of how to convince humanity that it is in their best interest to consume less, instead of more. Even if 'P' is reduced, the steady rise of 'A' in the Impact Equation means that our crushing impact on the Earth will continue to increase."

In your work, you manage to string enough statistics and stories together to form a horrifying picture: humankind rapidly creating our own demise in the assumption that our Earth and its resources will provide an unlimited supply of space and sustenance. You manage very successfully to "shake people awake" to what is happening throughout the world. What can be done to stop this demise?

Don't have families with more than one or two children. Encourage religious institutions to support birth control and family planning; encourage politicians to support the same. Reduce consumption.

People may not be as interested in driving their big, fuel-guzzling cars if it costs them $5+ per gallon at the gas station. They might think twice before filling their huge bathtubs or watering their lawns daily if the costs of water and natural gas triple. They may not insist upon meat every day if the prices reflect the true cost in terms of the Earth's resources.

In a nutshell, do as much as you can, in whatever arena you can.

Interview with Dr. Sylvia Earle

October 20, 1998

I've heard a lot of discussion about the Sustainable Seas Expeditions. What are the objectives of these expeditions?

This project is a three-way partnership, coordinated by the National Geographic Society in cooperation with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and supported by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. We have set out to elevate the status of marine sanctuaries to that of national parks. We want people to understand the importance of protecting the diversity of life in the ocean. The Sustainable Seas Expeditions will use two manned submersibles, capable of exploring to 2,000 feet or more, to document the twelve marine sanctuaries in North America. Our goal is to change the way people think about the ocean, to emphasize the need for protected areas and to develop an ethic of ocean stewardship.

In what way will the Sustainable Seas Project be active here in the Florida Keys?

We plan to implement this work with sanctuary managers and scientists who are already engaged in research in each of the twelve sanctuaries, in order to cooperate with them and provide equipment that will extend the range of research capability down to 2,000 feet. The company providing the submersibles is a Vancouver-based operation called Nuytco, the same firm that Zegrahm and DeepEx are working with on your forthcoming DeepSea Voyages programs.

Both literally and figuratively, we hope to provide greater depth to the ongoing studies, as well as to implement some new ones. It is essential to develop a yardstick to measure change over time (in the marine environment) starting from now and going forward, but also, looking backwards. We will extract biological data from archival records made by people who have been doing research over the past few decades. This archival information will focus on the marine sanctuaries in the United States but at the same time we will encourage others to do the same internationally. This type of a database will give us a perspective of what has happened in the last century and a better understanding of where we are headed in the next century.

The most desirable thing we can strive for is some measure of stability. The last thing we want is to find our natural systems in a chaotic state, with no predictability on which way they are going. Whether we're talking about fish populations, wetlands, water temperature or the health of our coral reefs, we must understand how these natural systems work and what the triggering factors are in order to develop wise management policies.

What is the significance of the year of the ocean?

The year of the ocean is a national, as well as an international, effort to celebrate the relationship between humankind and the seas. It has taken a number of directions. On an international scale, there is a World Ocean Expo in Lisbon, with pavilions from many different countries. The Ocean Expo is like a world fair, but it's all about the oceans. A new aquarium has opened in connection with the Expo. Jean-Michael Cousteau and I are the spokespersons for the U.S.

On a national scale, there was an oceans conference in Monterey in June. That conference was unprecedented, with approximately 500 invited individuals from all over the country representing the many aspects of the ocean community: industry, science, conservation, technology, scientists as well as President Clinton, the First Lady and Vice President Al Gore.

You could feel the energy about raising public awareness about the oceans. It seems that at last there really is concern about the oceans on a national scale, that a wave of momentum has been created that will carry on into the next century. We have an opportunity now to do for the oceans in the 21st century what the 20th century has done for space. We must elevate the importance of the oceans and recognize that everything on this planet is absolutely governed by them.

Here is just one of the ways that sea and space come together: think about setting up housekeeping on Mars or in a spacecraft -- the key is water. We have been indifferent about the state of the oceans. I hope that what I am sensing during this Year of the Ocean is a real "Sea Change" of attitude.

What can adventure travelers do with regard to the year of ocean?

Education and understanding are two critical elements in the concept of the year of the ocean. This is where Zegrahm comes in. The expeditions you offer are important, because there is nothing like being there. It is widely acknowledged that one picture is worth a thousand words, but there is no question that one experience is worth a thousand pictures.