Antarctica. Photo: David C. Schultz.

Bella Papadopoulou Dobrowolska, 24,  and Morgan Pettersson, 23,  are in a group of 30 young environmental ambassadors about to go on a trip to Antarctica. The two filed this story about the project.

We are in a group of thirty young people who are about to embark on an expedition to Antarctica to try to raise awareness about the environmental challenges the continent is facing and why it needs to be protected.

Our group is made up of young people come from all over the world and we all share one thing in common: the passion to protect our fragile environment. All of us have been chosen to become Antarctic youth ambassadors as part of the Antarctic Youth Ambassador Program (AYAP) and will travel to Antarctica on an expedition in late February this year.

We will leave our families, communities and lives behind to come together to witness the majestic beauty and fragile reality that is Antarctica.

Our group will converge together in Ushuaia, Argentina, the most southern city in the world, where we will meet expedition leader and polar explorer Robert Swan.

After two days training we will board the ship that will become our home for the next two weeks as we will sail down across the notorious Drake Passage and enter the world of ice.

The expedition aims to present the harsh realities of the changing climate on Antarctica to us, but to also equip us with the leadership skills and knowledge to return to our home communities and start a project that further raises awareness about the need to protect Antarctica.

Bella Papadopolous Dobrowlska

The Antarctic Youth Ambassador Program was created by Gemma Borgo-Caratti, 24,  and Swati Hingorani, who both attended the attended the 2011 International Antarctic Expedition with British polar explorer Robert Swan, OBE.

Gemma and Swati worked together with Robert Swan and an organisation called 2041 to create a program that aims to bring together young people from all over the world who are passionate about protecting the environment.

“Being in Antarctica [was] incredibly moving for us. We saw, firsthand, the impacts of climate change on the uninhabited continent and realised that we needed more young people to have the same experience. Protecting the continent is vital to the water security of the world. In an era of climate change, unprecedented glacial melt in the Antarctic will cause a considerable rise in sea levels worldwide,” Gemma told us.

As climate change has become our actual reality, involving today’s youth is more crucial than ever.
A few years ago Antarctica’s melting ice was just something that specific scientists knew about.

Today the evidence of our changing climate and Antarctica’s melting ice is everywhere. It can be seen on our eroding beaches, the snow-less Christmases of the northern hemisphere and the unpredictable summer weather patterns seen in Australia and our dry lakes.

Last year’s (AYAP?) expedition member, Théo Rohfritsch, 22,  from France, says it was a very strong experience to see Antarctica up close.

“This experience was not only about discovering a place but feeling the real connection of an unexploited nature and witnessing the global warming effects at firsthand, which are apparent to the naked eye.

“Then, meeting with amazing people who have the same motivation of making a change, inspires you to move forward. For me, it means a message: if you want, you can do anything, it is just a question willingness,” Theo told us.

Bader Al Lawati, 27, is also in our youth ambassador group this year. His environmental interest started years ago when he attended a lecture by the Environment Society of Oman (ESO) where they explained how turtles get severely affected by human action.

He got involved in various animal related volunteer projects and from there his interest in protecting the environment grew.

Morgan Pettersson

“Oman is still a developing country, so there are many things that can be done here, currently I am working with the Environment Society of Oman to develop three main campaigns.

“The first one is to educate people on the environmental damage that is caused on an individual level, especially in regards to the marine environment. The second one is a campaign that aims for businesses and individuals to reduce plastic bag consumption. The third campaign is to promote solar energy in sunny Oman,” Bader said.

Eimear Carlin, 33,  is another AYAP member who will be joining Bader in Antarctica. Hailing from Ireland, Eimear has had previous polar experience after working in the Canadian Arctic when she was 23.

The minus 40 degree Celsius conditions and 24 hour darkness during the time she lived there would make most people go crazy, yet Eimear thrived and her appreciation for the fragile landscape of polar regions made her jump at the chance to travel to Antarctica.

“The Antarctic Youth Ambassador Programme combines so many of my passions, climate change, sustainability and polar protection,” she says and continues.

“I am quite realistic in how [Ireland] can engage in climate solutions. Job creation and ensuring a viable career in Ireland for young people has to be central to this, and awareness of this possibility is part of what I want to achieve in my work as a youth ambassador.”

Upon her return from Antarctica she hopes to raise further awareness about climate change in Ireland through education in schools and hopes that her story will inspire other young people.

“I want to raise awareness in young people in Ireland of how we can increase engagement in climate solutions. I feel there is a gap in our education system where after the age of 15 to 16, environmental education is put on the back burner, and I aim to inspire and engage this age group.

“I want young people to know that if you make the decision to undertake a project, dream, goal it is possible to achieve it with hard work and belief in yourself,” Eimear said.

Expedition leader Robert Swan (OBE) is a polar explorer who was the first person in history to walk unassisted to both the north and south poles.

Robert Swan began to see the first signs of climate change over twenty years ago when the ice caps in the Arctic melted months earlier than they were predicted to, resulting in himself and his team almost drowning.

In Antarctica his eyes permanently changed colour as a result of the hole in the ozone layer. Since retuning from his expeditions, Swan has dedicated his life to protecting Antarctica and the environment, through awareness raising campaigns. In 2003 he ran the first ‘Leadership on the Edge’ program taking corporate leaders down to Antarctica and has been running expeditions ever since as an awareness raising and leadership tool.

“Our 2041 International Antarctic Expeditions are run to engage and inspire the next generation of leaders to take responsibility, be sustainable, and know that now is the time for action in policy development, sustainable business generation through the promotion of recycling, renewable energy and sustainability,” said Robert.
“Thus in turn, but working towards these goals, Antarctica will be protected in the future and ultimately we will see a change in how we currently treat our earth.”

When asked if he had witnessed a change in expedition members after their Antarctic experience, Robert Swan answered that most people do return a changed person.

Theo Rohfritsch

“Yes, in almost everyone to an extent. Antarctica has a unique way of introducing you to a truly unforgiving and pristine environment. Some people return home as a changed person but do not initiate in changing their region back home. That is why this expedition will be different,” Robert said.

“For 2013, two alumni members have joined forces with 2041 to build the Antarctic Youth Ambassador Program, where selected members will come on board with a general project on changes they would like to implement in their region.
“Then [they are expected to] build a viable plan of positive change that they will work on over the course of the year following the expedition, with help from their peers and 2041 alumni, ” Robert added.

Previous expedition member Theo Rohfritsch, 22,  agrees that the experience of being in Antarctica is unlike any other and something that will force you to change the way you see the world.

“This is going to change you no matter who you are. Everybody needs this kind of experience to be able to continue on and change peoples minds about the environment, “he said.

Bella and Morgan will travel to Antarctica in the end of February 2013. You can follow their projects on www.helpmeprotectantarctica.com and www.morganinantartica.wordpress.com