Tuesday 6 February 2001
Peter Blake history
March 19, 2020

“That is our role – to encourage people to want to make a difference.”
– Sir Peter Blake

  • Location: Alongside the sea ice in George VI Sound
  • Latitude: 69.52S
  • Longitude: 68.48W
  • Wind: 10 knot southerly
  • Sea: Calm
  • Air temp: Minus 5 deg C at night (presently plus 4 deg C)
  • Sea temp: 0 deg C
  • Barometer: 994 mbs and falling
  • Conditions: Excellent
  • Visibility: Unlimited – probably more than 100 miles

1500 hrs: An iceberg we estimate at around 60 million tonnes is a few hundred metres astern of us – drifting slowly past on the current coming from under the sheet of sea ice that we are moored next to. It is part of the “conveyer belt” of bergs – many huge, some small, that progressively hove into sight – starting their journey at the front of a large glacier way to our east amongst the blueness of the distant mountains.

There are six seals asleep in the bright afternoon sunshine on the ice not far ahead of Seamaster. Another two are nearby to port in the same attitude.

The sky is a weak pale blue with considerable areas of high streaky cloud, but it is certainly brighter than yesterday.

A tidy-up of our ship took place after breakfast, followed by a dive meeting to determine who was diving today and the aims of the dive. Ollie and Janot made it into the pool of water between Seamaster and the ice just before lunch – to be greeted by very poor visibility. The sea is full of phytoplankton (minute free-floating aquatic plants). This is mostly made up of algae that grow on the underside of the ice, which form the beginning of the marine food chain. This algae blooms in the summer months, and provides the food source for the masses of krill – those tiny shrimp-like creatures that are food for almost everything else that lives in these waters. Far less ice than normal means far more ice has melted, releasing the algae into the sea – turning it into a dark greenish colour.

While the others were involved with the diving, I had a telephone call to make to Nairobi – to the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme. Environment ministers from over 80 countries are gathering to talk through the problems of global warming and other ecological issues. We had been requested to provide a live telephone link from our present position here at the bottom of the Antarctic Peninsula, to describe what we have found over the past few days and weeks.

To be here on Seamaster, on a piece of sea that no-one has ever been on before (because it is normally frozen) really brought home what is actually happening to the ice in this part of the world.

To be actually here in the bright Antarctic sunshine, standing on hard sea ice in my survival suit, with the remote satellite telephone handset, describing what I could see around us was quite extraordinary. To be directly linked to a room in Nairobi and to be able to speak to different delegates, and the other members of the audience in the room through a loudspeaker system, shows what is possible with modern communications.

Yesterday we e-mailed a number of good quality photos to our colleague, friend and shipmate in Chicago, Chris Coffin. He “processed” the digital photos and they were in front of the delegates this morning – only a few hours later – along with a map of our present whereabouts.

Talking about the environment in general is a passion of mine – not that I would class myself a “greenie” at any time. But to be here in Antarctica on such a beautiful day amidst this most extraordinary scenery and be able to say what I really felt was a very special time – particularly when those government representatives listening at the other end in Nairobi effectively hold the ecological future of this planet in their hands. Or do they?

It is very necessary that their hearts are behind “making a difference”, but often there will be constraints on them that are difficult to overcome. It is now going to be more and more up to individuals who will accept nothing less. That is our role – to encourage people to want to make a difference.

We have chosen “education through entertainment” as being the method to get the messages across – utilising television programmes and the internet.

To be part of the United Nations Environment Programme, and have them officially onboard with us – helps us appreciate that even though we are just a few individuals with certain ideals, there are others who also think the same way.

To those at UNEP who were involved with today’s organisation – many thanks. We look forward to further such occasions…

Photo credit: Don Robertson