We awoke this morning to mercifully calm seas (navigable by zodiacs) and an eerie but stunning view of Snares Island rising out of the fog. Over the course of the morning it has been referred to as “the Jurassic Park island”, the “ James Bond island”, the “Lord of the Rings island”….Needless to say, it was quite awe-inspiring, with massive cliffs rising right out of the ocean and multitudes of sea birds darting in and out of the mist. Even more amazingly, as the morning went on and we prepared for the day, the fog lifted, giving us a full view of this wonderful place. While Auckland and Campbell Island are both heavily protected by the New Zealand government, Snares is even more so, due to the truly staggering numbers of birds nesting and burrowing here. According to Kerry-Jayne, there are more Sooty Shearwaters on the island during peak breeding season than there are seabirds in all of the UK. Furthermore, the Snares, unlike Auckland and Campbell, have generally escaped the influence of humans, with no farming or introduced pests.
To help preserve this wonderful natural sanctuary, only a limited number of the expedition were actually allowed to land on shore. One group consisted of many of the science team leaders, with the intention to gather incredibly useful information on the wildlife and ecology of the island as well as take a peat core to reconstruct how it has changed over time. Another small group also landed, mainly to share this beautiful place through a Google Hangout. Both teams had a wonderful day, the Hangout taking place with a backdrop of penguins and Sea lions and the scientists collecting a wealth of data.
Those of us who didn’t get to actually set foot on the Snares certainly didn’t feel short-changed. On the contrary, it was one of the most enjoyable days of the entire trip! In the morning we all loaded into zodiacs and explored the island from the sea. Many thanks to our intrepid zodiac drivers, who took us to some amazing spots. The cliffs and rock formations on the coast were simply spectacular, sometimes rising 100 meters straight up from the ocean. We explored numerous sea caves, and even motored through a ~50m long sea arch. And then there was the wildlife; seabirds of all kinds, the endemic Snares crested penguins, and plenty of seals and sea lions. This was the first time this trip for many of us to see real penguin colonies, it was incredibly cool to watch them climbing up rocks and over kelp in and out of the water. A few of us even managed to get some really neat underwater footage which should be posted on the Spirit of Mawson website soon. Overall it was just one of those magical days when everything seems to go right and it’s impossible not to have a fantastic time.
Our final night on board was anything but somber, with a delicious meal followed by a cozy evening in the bar. One of my favorite parts of the entire trip was hearing from each of the science leaders. In just a few minutes each, they summarized the research that had been achieved over the past 10 days. It was truly amazing to hear about the far-ranging science that we have all been a part of, and that will of course continue both back in the lab and on the next leg of the Spirit of Mawson expedition.
The final Picture of the Day competition was one of the best, with some truly amazing photographs. A shot of penguins underwater was hard to beat. We also watched a few more videos, of seals pirouetting underwater and a compilation of footage from the entire trip that certainly made all of us wish we could start over and head South again. Perhaps the only downside was finally having to settle our bar tabs…
All in all it has been a wonderful trip, a blend of science and adventure that Douglas Mawson would have been proud of. A very warm, heartfelt thanks to the trip leaders; Greg Mortimer, Chris Fogwill, and Chris Turney. You guys have pulled off an incredibly difficult endeavor with flying colors and we are all very grateful to have been a part of this first leg of the expedition. Tomorrow many of us will head back to different corners of the globe, others will be busy preparing for the trip to Commonwealth Bay. But none of us will forget the Spirit of Mawson, that the quest for knowledge continues right to the ends of the earth.
Thanks and safe travels to Antarctica!