PARADISE BAY, Antarctica – The 80 female scientists and professionals on the Homeward Bound expedition to Antarctica set foot on the frozen continent’s mainland for the first time on Monday at Paradise Bay to tour an ambitious project to research fish at Argentina’s Brown Station, in one of the area’s most beautiful settings.
On Day 13 of the expedition, after setting sail from the far-southern Argentine port of Ushuaia on Dec. 31 and visiting various islands in Antarctica, the group arrived at Brown Station, established in 1951 in a mountainous area, with a nice harbor and a beautiful view.
As they walked toward the base, the expedition members examined the installation, which is staffed only in the Southern Hemisphere summer and has been gradually reactivated since suffering a bad fire in 1984.
The most noteworthy thing one sees when one arrives here are the small buildings of the station surrounded by groups of penguins, who waddle here and there without any apparent fear of humans.
The base is currently staffed by 11 people and under the command of Astrid Zaffiro, and they carry out studies to monitor various bird and whale species, as well as geological work, although during the current season they are focusing on a study about fish.
“Currently, we have scientific activity going on regarding fish and establishing fishing limits,” Maria Florencia Blanchet – the medical and environmental officer at the base, who arrived here with the other mission members just a week ago and is still getting things organized – told EFE.
Manuel Novillo, an expert on Antarctic fish, said that the studies are seeking to “try and understand the behavior and the lives of the fish, the biology, their life cycle, to be able to protect them in the hypothetical case that there’s a resumption of commercial fishing in these areas.”
He said that during the 1970s there was substantial overfishing and some populations were fished almost to extinction in the South Shetland Islands.
Now that such practices are prohibited in several areas around these islands, “we’re continuing to carry out studies of the basic biology of the species, to have an idea, if there’s a resumption, of where to fish, during what season and how to do it sustainably,” he said.
The Brown Station crew – like other scientists – are concerned about possible uncontrolled fishing and global warming, which has affected marine life and the Antarctic glaciers.
Carlos Bellisio, 61, told EFE that he believes that this “marvelous place has to be taken care of wholeheartedly since we could lose it at any time because the climate is going crazy here ... Everything’s being melted.”
Bellisio had devoted his energies to studying Antarctic fish since the 1970s.
Brown is the second Argentine research station – after Carlini – that the Homeward Bound expedition members have visited on this trip.
Dr. Kristin Mitchel, who works in Alaska, emphasized that the fact that two women – Zaffiro and Blanchet – are leaders at Brown, saying: “That says a lot about teamwork and female empowerment.”
The tour will last until Jan. 19 and one of its members is Costa Rican Christiana Figueres, a key leader in the fight against climate change and in favor of women’s empowerment.
Homeward Bound, with its backing by Spanish infrastructure and renewable energy firm Acciona, is a global initiative for women in the STEMM fields (i.e. science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) with an eye toward boosting female visibility as leaders on matters of global import.