Expedition Diaries 2015

Day 10

Day 10

An additional remark

When Rual Amundsen reached the North magnetic pole, he put up his tent, installed the Norwegian flag and wrote in his diary: “Nothing special”. If a polar explorer who dedicated all his life to polar expeditions and just achieved something really great said something of this kind, it is not surprising that an ordinary AFU expedition member could say the same about July 10.

One of the foreign members of the expedition, Christoph Böttger, a student of the Technical Institute of Freiburg Mining Academy, “quoted” Amundsen while speaking about Varnek settlement. He said that it was nothing special. Then he thought for a second and added that it was special nothing.

This phrase can be used to describe an Arctic expedition in general. At least, for some people. There was another storm on July 10, though only three days have passed since the previous one. The expedition members felt sea sick, the lectures were cancelled. If you look out of the illuminator, you can see only lead grey water. But what landscape do we usually see in the Arctic? The islands are callow and unfriendly. If we manage to find the evidence of human activity there, it is either ruins, or litter, or a couple of houses on the seashore. To find something really special you must be a specialist and you must accurately identify, let’s say, a cushion pink, or a skua, and etc. Otherwise all days will seem similar to you and the expedition will turn into nothing special.

But what is so special about this “nothing”? First of all, the eye-sight and perception accommodation takes place and soon you are able to distinguish the shades of sea water colour. For example, the water is greenish near the Solovki and light brown in the Kara Sea. Of course, your experience is not enough to define the ice thickness from the first sight, however it becomes clear that there are some signs, you just need to know where to look and you will learn to understand the polar desert. But what for? It is very hard to explain, especially to those who have never been here before. Probably Amundsen meant that it is useless to waste words, it is impossible to tell about it. For example, there were two polar explorers, Wilkins and Alson. They were the first who landed a plane on the ice. Then it broke down, they had to spend several days in a control cabin due to the snowstorm. Then they walked for a long time, pulled the sledge for food supplies, which they had made out of the plane wing, with them. But what did they say when they were rescued? “We travelled overice, ate cookies and chocolate, slept in an icehouse. We didn’t face any particular hardships”.

On the bridge

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Though the lectures were cancelled on July 10 due to tossing, the storm didn’t prevent something special from happening. There was an excursion to the bridge in the morning in English and after lunch in Russian. The higher you get, the stronger the tossing becomes, but everybody was tough enough to stand still and listen to Andrey Borisov, the third mate. Andrey told and showed how to lay the route on the map, how to use the radar, how to speed up or to send out a mayday call. There was also an interesting demonstration of flags. It turned out that except for the “home country” flag and the flag of the vessel destination, there are 33 special flags which identify the type of work conducted on board: a refueling operation, divers’ submersion, an emergency rescue operation, etc. are marked with its own special flag.

And of course we were allowed to hold the steering wheel. It turned out to be rather small and resembled of the racing car steering wheel. It is very convenient. But it is not used much as usually the vessel is controlled by automated navigation system.

The brood hen academy

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In the evening the waves diminished, the expedition members felt better and Sofia Rozenfeldt, an ornithologist, a researcher in the Institute of Environmental and Evolutionary Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences, told about the birds in New Zealand where she spent about one and a half months, it was a business trip around different natural reservations.

The main conclusion was that Russian level of environmental protection still leaves much to be desired. But there is an advantage as well: in Russia ecosystems can still exist separately, without constant human maintenance in comparison with unique and exciting ecosystems of New Zealand which need constant investments and maintenance.

However the positive experience of New Zealand is really valuable. At the very least it deserves respects, and sometimes it is striking and even breathtaking. For example, in 1976 there were only 5 black robins left, among which there was only one female. This is an evident example of bottleneck effect. But a lot of efforts had been put and the population increased to 250 birds. It is a real miracle.

The colonists brought small predators such as weasels and rodents to New Zealand and they have become one of the main hazards for the birds, so an isolated island is chosen for the natural reservation establishment. Today there is a term in biology – sanctuary birds. These are the birds which exist only in artificial ecosystems.

New Zealand is famous for its endemic species such as mountain parrots and kiwi. Of course, they are well protected. But the best example is about takakhi, another bird which is unable to fly and was treated as extinct for a long time. But occasionally a takakhi colony was found in the Te-Anau valley on the Southern Islands and about 30 nests were described. Its location is still kept secret. A farm was also created on the Northern Island. It was clear that neither adult birds, nor chicks can survive such a long journey, so it was decided to transport the eggs. But it is impossible for the eggs to survive without brood hens, so common hens were used for this purpose. They went through special training: they were carried by helicopters, by trucks along bumpy roads and by boats during storm. Then three hens were picked, the sturdiest, or the dumbest ones, and they were used for the egg transportation.

So this must become a lesson for us: if the hens can be trained to take care of stranger’s eggs in extreme conditions, probably people will learn to take care of the nature. 


Day 10
Day 10

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Updated 03.07.2015