Antarctica - Caspian Sea - Madagascar - St. Lawrence
||Lilliput in Antarctica, 1990: A Heritage Claimed
Years before, in 1972-73, The Cousteau Society had embarked on an expedition to Antarctica that turned out to be the most perilous ever faced by Calypso as well as one of the most rewarding. The resulting theatrical film and five hours of television programming gave much of the world its first lingering look at the immense, pristine continent on the bottom of the globe. The expedition also made an indelible impression on Captain Cousteau: this fragile ice giant is not only unique but invaluable to the planets balance of temperature, water and climate.
The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959, was supposed to ensure the continents protection but, in 1988, a new text, the Wellington Convention, was developed to establish a regime for mineral exploration and exploitation. The prospect of contaminating what he called "the land of the singing ice" roused Captain Cousteau to launch a petition campaign, calling for a moratorium on any mineral development in Antarctica.
|Captain Cousteau set out on an unprecedented adventure to drive home the urgency of preserving the ice continent. On January 4, 1990, the polar vessel Erebus departed Punta Arenas, Chile, carrying a special Cousteau team that included not only divers and photographers but also a teacher and, most importantly, six 11- and 12-year-old childrenthree girls and three boys, representing each of Earths continents. Led by Captain Cousteau, this unusual group had a very special mission: to dramatize to the world that Antarctica belongs to future generations whose legacy is imperiled by the prospect of mineral exploitation.
Their destination lay three days away, across some of the most treacherous waters in the world, including the infamous Drake Passage. But luck and a following sea traveled with the expedition; Captain Cousteau recalled that it was his fifth and "best" crossing of the Drake Passage, where Calypso had nearly capsized in stormy seas on the earlier expedition.
||The children quickly began communicating in a mixture of English, French, Spanish and gestures. They explored every corner of the ship and began classesa compressed study of Antarctica in the field. Geography was no longer contained between stiff covers of a book; it lay before them. Meteorology, the ozone layer, barometers were real life for these young explorers.
At 1:00 p.m. on January 6, they spotted their first iceberg. Adelie penguins broke the surface in small groups. Then, around 10:00 p.m., the first whales arriveda pair of humpbacksfollowed shortly by seals. Within the hour, Erebus anchored near King George Island at the tip of the Antarctic peninsula. At first light, the group heads for shore to visit the skeleton of a blue whale, lying exactly as Calypsos crew had reconstructed it in 1972.
The explorers tackled a construction job of their own: an ice-house, built according to plans from the British Special Air Services Survival Handbook. Blocks of compacted snow were cut and stacked, and the newly completed dome was capped with the special expedition flag. Two children spent the night in their icy Antarctic abode (and reported that they werent at all cold!).
Visits to Brazilian, Polish and American research stations provided first-hand look at the scientific importance of Antarctica. Treks to observe elephant seals, crabeater seals, penguins, skuas and dolphins reinforced the vitality of life. For the small, symbolic team, and the millions of television viewers with whom they shared their adventure, Antarctica is truly a vital heritage that cannot be risked for near-sighted gain.
The Lilliput expedition and Captain Cousteau's campaign resulted in victory for the frozen continent: in 1991, the parties to the Antarctic Treaty agreed on a Protocol on Environmental Protection, setting aside Antarctica as a natural reserve dedicated to peace and science, and prohibiting mineral activities for at least 50 years.
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