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A dream come true. Ready set go!

December 2, 2010

By Ben Allen

After a long selection process spanning months, 17 aspiring teens from all over Hong Kong have been selected for a unique opportunity – to visit the Antarctic peninsula, and experience the beauty of the pristine iceland for themselves. Sponsored by the charity Yan Oi Tong and under the guidance of staff from Hong Kong Discovery, the band will become the first high school students ever in Asia if not the world to have the chance to see this true wilderness of the Earth.

Lying at the southernmost tip of our Earth, Antarctica is a land upon which few humans have ever walked and only the most unique creatures choose to make their abode. Humans know so little about this looming continent that its existence was only confirmed a few hundred years back, and up to this day the people who have ever set foot within the icy domain still only number in the thousands.

When the application process opened many months back in May, hundreds of students from hundreds of schools applied, each having to send in an initial proposal regarding a project of environmental advocacy that they would need to carry out in school in later stages of selection. After cutting from this starting pool, 107 students were given chances to prove themselves in multiple training sessions, ranging from lectures to hikes and jumping off piers in Outward Bound HK. Finally, in October, 17 of these were chosen to carry the flag for Hong Kong on the trip from 5th December to 22nd December. And, believe it or not, I’m part of the 17!!!

The students, led by veteran explorer Mr. Jan Chan, will first travel to Argentina by way of Paris, and make their way down to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, which lies right at the tip of the straights of Magellan. From there, we will board the long-serving Marina Svetava, an ice-breaker specially designed to punch its way through ice floes and withstand the rough seas that the ship will face when it crosses the infamous Drake Passage.

The ice breaker will also be boarded by scientists and researchers from a multitude of nations, and we will have the wonderful opportunity to listen to lectures on issues ranging from climatology to geology in relation to the Antarctic, and most importantly to learn about the importance of Antarctic research in contributing to the efforts against Global Warming.

Upon reaching the peninsula, the team will visit several locations, including the famous Port Lockroy – a British post office, and the only building in the Antarctic circle not devoted to research of scientific study. After a few landings, the team will finally reach the jewel in the crown of the programme – a chance to visit the Chinese Great Wall Science Station. There, we will spend the night (though the sun never goes down in the summer!) with Chinese scientists and have an opportunity to experience firsthand what many can only read and dream about back home.

This opportunity was born out of the vision of Dr. Rebecca Lee, veteran Polar explorer and researcher, up to some 20 years ago when she envisaged a grand scheme which would take students, representative of the next generation, to the pole.  At a briefing selection, she said: ‘Our Earth is slowly dying – and we must let the leaders of tomorrow see for themselves the true beauty of the Earth before it is all lost, so that they may take the lead on the path to recovery.’

These words obviously apply to those who will be embarking the Marina Svetava – but they also reflect a more general need. The Antarctic was the place where we first discovered the human wrought damage to the Ozone layer, and the revelations there pushed us into a more general understanding of the damage we are inflicting on our environment. Dr Lee’s sentiments should remind us all that we too have a duty to play our part in healing the world.

I will be writing a diary during this extraordinary trip, so if you want to ‘virtually’ climb on board the Marina Svetava, watch this space!

Read more about Ben’s trip

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