Recently, 80 youths representing 28 nations celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Expedition to Antarctica, which was launched for the first time by environmental leader and public speaker Robert Swan, OBE, in 1993. Swan dedicated his life to preserving Antarctica by promoting recycling, renewable energy, and sustainable development to combat climate change. For the Expedition to Antarctica, the ship sailed on March 3 from the Argentine port city of Ushuaia, carrying the hopes of the world's youth and the ambitions of the international community in achieving the concept of "sustainable development" to preserve the environmental rights of future generations.
Expedition 2041... Why?
The mission of the International Antarctic Expedition 2041 (IAE) is to create ambassadors for education, the environment, and sustainability across the globe. It is intended to protect Antarctica and the rest of the planet and to inspire leaders to return to their home countries and create change on a personal level, at the community level, at the corporate level, and beyond.
IAE 2041 was founded by explorer, environmental leader, and public speaker Robert Swan, the first person in history to walk to both the North and South Poles. Swan has dedicated his life to the preservation of Antarctica through the promotion of recycling, renewable energy, and sustainability to combat the effects of climate change. IAE 2041's mission is to build on Swan's dedication by informing, engaging, and inspiring the next generation of leaders to take responsibility; to be sustainable; and to recognise that now is the time for action in policy development, business generation, and future technologies. As the year 2041 quickly approaches, Robert's goal is to ensure that the young people of today make informed and sustainable decisions for tomorrow. I participated in one of the Antarctic expeditions recently. It was not a two-week holiday but rather a lifetime commitment. Robert Swan's "Leadership on the Edge" programme encompassed leadership, the environment, education, and survival, and with this new approach, the 15-day experience helped participants to make changes in their lives when they returned home. The programme focused on leadership skills, personal development, improving communication skills, and team building, utilising the experiences of Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen, and other early explorers.
During the expedition, guest experts on the environment, climate change, sustainable development, and outdoor leadership hosted presentations, debates, and lessons in the dynamic outdoor classroom of the Antarctic and gave team members a practical basis on which they could start the process of change.
After the expedition, the participants became part of the IAE 2041 alumni, a unique and diverse team that will continue to develop as their experiences in Antarctica translate into action and have effective results. The Antarctic continent is one of the most remote, inhospitable environments on Earth. In this environment, the IAE programme focuses on leadership, teamwork, and personal development. Robert Swan takes the international group of corporate leaders, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, teachers, and young people on a journey through the Antarctic Peninsula, visiting incredible locations while he shares his insights and personal experiences of this unique continent.
This expedition is packaged as "educational tourism." During the two-week journey, the team learned several practical skills. The programme included daily presentations that gave the participants essential information on numerous environmental issues such as global warming, solar energy, the critical importance of using clean energy, and the urgent need to reduce the risks created by hazardous and non-hazardous waste to achieve the concept of "sustainable development". In addition, the programme helped participants to improve their communication skills to enable them to promote environmental awareness amongst the various segments of society. The 80 participants were divided into several groups, and each group was asked to create a communication plan and proposals for public relations. Through this task, each group was able to exchange their theoretical and practical experience in environmental communication.
The participants were also trained to follow safety procedures, which were mandatory during the trip, and they were asked to practice these procedures during their field activities.
The tens of research stations studying the conditions of the Antarctic environment on King George Island caught the attention of the participants. One such station had been created by Robert Swan's team over the last few years, coinciding with the launch of his training expeditions to Antarctica; it is the first research station to be built at the South Pole that works on sustainable products.
The adventurous programme passed through Drake Passage, which is an open body of water that stretches for hundreds of miles and is classified as one of the most dangerous sea lanes in the world. The expedition team had prepared several entertainment programmes that were designed to teach the participants vital techniques for challenging nature. Among these programmes was a 'night camping' activity, which took place in one of the isolated corners of Antarctica.
Despite the extreme weather conditions and the lack of vegetation, Antarctica has abundant wildlife in the coastal areas and in the surrounding sea. The sea is full of krill and plankton, which are at the bottom of the Antarctic food chain, ensuring the sustenance of the animal population. The land-based ecosystem is quite simple and is limited to a handful of insects and mites, which depend on the scant vegetation for sustenance. All higher forms of life belong to the rich marine ecosystem.
Presenting the local environmental policies
During our trip to Antarctica, I had the opportunity to meet Robert Swan. I gave him a copy of the book Conservation Area in Oman, which was published by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, as well as a range of electronic books that define the elements of biodiversity in the Sultanate. He also listened to a summary of the Sultanate's environmental policies. Robert expressed appreciation for the Sultanate's efforts in preserving its environment against various types of pollution, stressing that the process of preserving the environment is a collective responsibility for international institutions.
After 20 years of travelling across nearly 40 countries, my journey to Antarctica was unique for several reasons. First, it gave me an opportunity to set foot in the coldest place on Earth for the first time and to enjoy watching the aurora australis, known as the Southern Lights.
Secondly, the unique educational programmes on the expedition elevated my environmental awareness and contributed towards reshaping my mindset, along with that of the current generation, to lead the community (individuals and institutions) to follow the concept of sustainable development to ensure prosperity and provide a decent standard of living for future generations.
I must emphasise the importance of support from governmental and private institutions for the Omani youth to participate in such events, which include rehabilitation programmes that benefit everyone. I encourage these institutions to support programmes that seek to preserve the environment against pollution and to protect resources from depletion. I would like to thank the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, Ray International, Oman Fisheries Company, and Oman Portuguese Cement Products Company for their financial support, which allowed me to be part of this unique and fabulous journey.
(Yahya bin Ali Al Salmani is the director of awareness and information at the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs)