Rethinking Cruises to Antarctica

In 1994, I traveled to McMurdo Base in the Antarctic as a guest of the US Air Force.

The purpose of my trip was to gather research for a painting I created for the National Archives.

The trip was fantastic. If you have never been to Antarctica, but have the chance to go, jump on it! What a spectacular place filled with penguins, seals, whales and a huge array of birds gliding peacefully in the bluest, cleanest skies you have ever seen...for now anyways.

Recently, I returned to cruise the Antarctic peninsula for 10 days in 2018 over the Christmas/New Year’s Eve holiday on board the Sea Spirit, part of Poseidon Expeditions. This peninsula is directly south of Tierra del Fuego and we sailed to Yankee Harbor, Cierva Cove, and, Paradise Cove among other stunning locations. The water is a deep cobalt blue, peppered with icebergs of all sizes. Not a piece of trash in sight and the air actually smells sweet it is so clean.

Calling this trip a cruise is a misnomer though, because, it is more challenging than your typical pleasure sail. It is an expedition to discover the continent of Antarctica. We would land on shore using rapid Zodiac boats and then hike glaciers, or up the side of a volcanic caldera or just sit on the rocky shore, taking it all in while the sound of the glaciers cracking filled the air with enormous rifle burst sounds.

This environment is under strict protection by the IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) and, the crew on board our ship went to great lengths to make sure the gear we brought with us could not contaminate any of the landing sights we visited. They vacuumed everything we would wear or carry, then used tweezers while examining all sections of velcro or seams to be sure we weren’t accidentally taking seeds or other contaminants onto the land.

Each time we left and then returned to the ship, we scrubbed and cleaned our boots with an environmentally friendly detergent used to kill any bio hitchhikers.

The members of the expedition team offered wonderful, informative lectures on the glaciers, wildlife and how to respect, photograph and admire without hurting. They made sure we kept a good distance from the animals, so as not to disturb them, and, all of that care and preparation was quite amazing with sadly, one glaring problem that they absolutely chose to ignore.

I had asked the company booking our trip if I could take my meals away from the other passengers. After being a staunch animal activist and Vegan for 17 years, I just cannot sit in the same tiny dining room of a cruise ship jammed with people eating dead animals all around me.

The Vegan fare the chef provided was excellent, absolutely delicious, using fresh ingredients, and, they took great care to offer a wide variety of recipes. I was pleasantly surprised, and delighted, because this expedition lasted 10 days and I was a little worried it would be peanut butter and tofu, but, thankfully not! Delicious, well researched Vegan fare.

Unfortunately, I would always eat alone in either my cabin or the bar.

At some point, Poseidon is going to have to figure out a better way of providing meals for the Vegans on their voyages, who, like me, cannot sit with people making jokes about eating dead animals or smiling at us with pieces of bacon hanging from their mouths just to startle and disgust because they think doing this is a joke.

It isn’t.

One of the expedition crew, who knew I was a Vegan and volunteer as an advocate for animals, especially factory farmed ones, told me with great pleasure that he had TWO helpings of Beef Wellington for New Year’s Eve dinner. He thought this was very funny.

It isn’t funny, none of it is.

The horrifying abuse these animals suffer to then be brutally slaughtered and served on board a cruise ship is bad enough but the really sad part, is that, the pollution caused by factory farming, is in great part, responsible for the destruction being wrought upon Antarctica right now.

Someone, somewhere, needs to figure out a better way of touring the Antarctic. You get so much of the experience right Poseidon with your day trips for passengers to see the environment and animals as harmlessly as possible, however, I challenge you to look at the points I made in this article and rethink what it is you are truly selling your passengers.

You go to such great lengths with cleaning gear and providing informative lectures before turning tourists loose on the land, but happily contribute to the destruction of this amazing continent without batting an eye by supporting the cruel factory farming industry and all of the heat producing pollution it creates.

What is the point then of performing all of those precautions, when you are helping to destroy Antarctica through your heartless abuse of animals and your support of the horrifying pollution produced by factory farming?

During our trip there were some documentaries that would run on the TVs we had in the rooms. One documentary in particular even pointed out the horrendous damage to the glaciers in the world from global climate changes, which is due in great part, to the massive pollution caused by the factory farming the cruise line so happily supports.

“The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost an average of 281 BILLION tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2016, while Antarctica lost about 119 BILLION tons during the same time period. The rate of Antarctica ice mass loss has tripled in the last decade.”

A lecture presented by a Poseidon expedition member talked about climate change and specifically mentioned the need to cut down on the consumption of meat, however, no one on her team or involved with the cruise appeared to pay any attention to this message.

I was so happy being in Antarctica again, and, at the beginning of our expedition, truly delighted by the attention to detail and supposed care for the environment we were visiting, so I was considering doing one of their north pole trips, but, threw that idea away and realize I cannot ever cruise with Poseidon Expeditions again.

After having to eat alone for every meal and being the butt of a joke by a member of the expedition team, and, sadly overwhelmed by the fact that this cruise line does not seem to care about how they are contributing to the damage being wrought in Antarctica and the North Pole, it is clear that people who do care about animals and the environment would not do well on these cruises.

You can do better Poseidon, and, capitalize on your achievements instead of continuing to do the same old things that will convince Vegans they are not welcome on your trips and actually contribute to much of the damage inflicted on this pristine environment you are selling to your passengers. It won’t last forever and sadly, you are hurrying Antarctica’s demise.

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The greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated - Mahatma Ghandi

©  Briar Lee Mitchell, 2014