My Antarctica Experience – Reflections by Winston Cowie, Marine Policy Manager at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, a member of Team Zayed

It is hard to put into words the most magical place you have ever had the privilege of visiting.

Antarctica. Magnificent. Beautiful. Colossal. Vast. The grandeur and scale of this lost world is beyond comprehension. Twice the size of Australia. 14,000,000 sq. km. You could fit the United Arab Emirates into Antarctica 168 times, New Zealand 52 times. From the tumultuous waters of the great southern ocean, past the furious fifties and shrieking sixties, rises this magical land – the highest continent on earth, which is covered in ice up to 1.9 km thick. It towers above the sea, majestic, with huge glaciers and sheer cliffs guarding its plateaued interior, these giant walls of ice slipping into the sea on occasion with a thunderous roar.

The biodiversity is like I have never seen. The whales, the seals – sleeping and barking and jostling for dominance, the penguins, those loveable creatures whose antics can’t help but make one smile. Never have I seen anything like it in 30 years of travel on the world’s oceans.

Antarctica is magnificent. Its biodiversity is like a portal to another world. In the unknown sphere, it has a mystical aura that is difficult to explain – yet you can sense it. On an ecosystem nature-society level, it carries 90% of the world’s fresh water.

Antarctica is fundamental to the human race’s survival.

The Mission. The ClimateForce International Antarctic Expedition 2018.

 Ninety environmental ambassadors from over 20 countries took part in the two week expedition to Antarctica, the purpose of which was to learn about the continent and climate change through the Explorers Passage and polar explorer Sir Robert’s renowned ‘Leadership on the edge Programme,’ with each leader then charged with the responsibility to return to their respective countries to ignite the change to a low carbon economy. Sir Robert was the first explorer to walk to both the south and north poles and has since become a fierce environmental ambassador and advocate for the ongoing protection of Antarctica. In 30 years’ time, when the Antarctic Treaty is able to be reviewed – which preserves Antarctica for non-military use and scientific research, those that took part on the expedition will be charged with re-negotiating it for the greater good of nature and society. I personally pledged that in 30 years, at age 65, if lucky enough to still be here, that I would somehow be at the negotiating table. My word and that of the 2018 ninety is our bond.

Team Zayed and the Solar Lights – Our message to the world

Team Zayed was a team of three representing the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and Dr Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, in honour of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, in this 2018, a celebration of his life, the Year of Zayed. The team consisted of communication’s specialist Mariam Al Qassimi, Scientist of Mammalogy, Rashed Al Zaabi, and myself, Winston Cowie.

We were incredibly privileged to represent the agency and grateful to our inspirational Secretary General, Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, for the opportunity to take on the challenge of bringing the stark reality of a global issue – climate change –the challenge of our time – back to the UAE for further discussion and debate.

Whilst in Antarctica, Team Zayed led an initiative where with 102 solar lamps, with all delegates, we held a solar lights show, making words with the lights in the cold and dark of the Antarctic night, and sending them to the world.

Our message, 90 people from 20 countries, was: ‘Hi World – from Antarctica. Please listen: climate change and plastics are our challenge. Let’s change. All of us. Individuals and countries. Stop. Think. Act. Energise. Be the Change. #ClimateForce,”

If we can send a message to the world from Antarctica using renewable energy; if Robert and his son Barney, a 23 year old champion, can walk to the South Pole using only renewable energy, we can transition towards a low carbon society. Please heed the words – on the individual level. Stop. Think. Act.

With the lights we also honoured the visionary UAE leadership, the Environment Agency and some global environmental heroes – top of the list of course was Dr Jane Goodall.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr Jane earlier in the year at the UAE annual Roots & Shoots awards. What an amazing person she was – inspiring, dedicated, incredibly hard working but also patient and taking the time to talk with everybody.

Thank you, Dr Jane, for inspiring me, my daughters, and millions all over the world.

And, in the words of Sir Robert Swan, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.

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