Category: Antarctica


The Most Important March of the Penguins

By Midge Raymond,

Last weekend, the least-populated region of this planet held a women’s march. For the penguins, this was the most important march of all.
The women’s marches taking place around the world last Saturday eclipsed the presidential inauguration in numbers and passion. The most far-reaching protest took place in Antarctica—and while this shipboard protest boasted only 30 marchers, it was one of the biggest in that this number represents the highest percentage of the continent’s population.


There should be so surprise that the protests extended this far south. As I write this, the President of the United States has been in office for only  a week, having already removed any mention of the environment from the White House website and having signed orders to move forward with the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. He not only does not believe in climate change, he has picked Scott Pruitt—who likewise doesn’t embrace the unequivocal science behind the reality of climate change but also has a longstanding reputation against regulating pollution—to head the Environmental Protection Agency (which, by the way, he has sued no fewer than 14 times). And meanwhile, for weeks the world has been watching (or should be) as the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica threatens to break off into the Southern Ocean, which in the short term will change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula—and in the long term will leave the Antarctic glaciers vulnerable to flowing into the ocean, potentially raising sea levels by several feet. (And this is only the new administration’s environmental offenses…when it comes to human rights, it gets even worse.)

Environmentally, Antarctica is becoming one of the most important regions in the world. And this is why scientists and travelers held “Penguins for Peace” signs in Antarctica last week.

The number Adelie penguins on the Antarctic peninsula have already decreased by 70 to 90 percent. Climate change, pollution, and the fishing industry are all factors, and unless each of these is controlled, the penguins will not survive. The new administration is poised to ensure that these birds become extinct.

What can we do for the environment? Keep protesting. Write our representatives. Donate to causes that are on the ground working to protect the environment and its creatures (such as Sea Shepherd Conservation Society). And don’t forget that we can each can make a difference for the environment (check out Cowspiracy for the very best individuals can help). And, of course get ready to get out the vote next time around—2018 is right around the corner (and can’t come soon enough).



Tourism in Antarctica: How many visitors are too many?

By Midge Raymond,

With the Antarctic travel season upon us — the austral summer, from November to February, is the only time the sea ice allows tourist vessel access — the increasing numbers of travelers to this region raise many questions. How many tourists are too many before the region is compromised?

Antarctic tourism began in 1966 with fifty-seven travelers. Now, upwards of 40,000 tourists visit the continent every year. Most tourism is, in fact, concentrated in a two-square-kilometer region on the Antarctic peninsula — which means a lot of feet on the ground for such a fragile environment.

And Antarctic tourism shows no signs of slowing down — quite the opposite, in fact. Beginning in 2018, Argentina will offer commercial flights to Antarctica. And while the U.S. and Australia comprise the majority of Antarctic visitors, Chinese tourists are now visiting Antarctica in large and growing numbers.

Most travelers to Antarctica travel by ship, and thanks to IAATO (the International Association for Antarctica Tour Operators), tourism in Antarctica is well managed — for now. But tour operators are clearly adapting to the demands of travelers and will likely continue to do so. IAATO expects the number of visitors to jump 14 percent this season, with increasing numbers of landings on the islands; last year, cruises that included landings increased by more than 10 percent.

With IAATO being a voluntary membership organization, there is reason for concern — Antarctic tourism needs to be managed well, and already Antarctic treaty members have raised concerns and called for more regulation. Just yesterday, the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced that Princess Cruise Lines will plead guilty to deliberately dumping oil-contaminated waste into the ocean and covering it up in incidents dating back to  2005, resulting in seven felony charges and a $40 million penalty, the biggest fine yet in the history of criminal cases involving vessel pollution. While these ships were not in Antarctica, this is alarming given the increase and expansion of ship travel, as Reuters notes: “Cruise ship travel has generated concern among environmental groups and governments over water contamination and waste as the industry adds passengers, routes and larger ships.”

I’m often asked how many times I’ve been to Antarctica (once) and for how long (less than two weeks) and whether I will ever return. Even though it’s my favorite landscape on earth, I’m not sure I belong there, especially having already had the privilege of going once. In her poem “Questions of Travel,” Elizabeth Bishop asks: “Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?” When it comes to Antarctica, I lean toward yes.

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See you at Wordstock in Portland!

By Midge Raymond,

I’m so looking forward to this Saturday’s festivities at the Wordstock festival in Portland.

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You can see the incredible lineup of authors and presenters here — and in addition to panels, workshops, and readings, there will be so many fun events, like Friday night’s LitCrawl and pop-up readings at the Portland Art Museum.

I’ll be on the panel The World Changed: Disasters Natural and Man-made, with Sunil Yapa and Alexis Smith, moderated by Zach Dundas, at 10 a.m. at The Old Church, and I can’t wait to chat about these amazing authors about their books.

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I’m also looking forward to my pop-up reading at the museum at 12:30…and to catching so many of the other events of the weekend. Check out the full Wordstock schedule here, and I look forward to seeing you there!



Is long-term peace possible in Antarctica?

By Midge Raymond,

Among the most amazing things about Antarctica — and there are so many — is that it is a place of peace. And this refers not only to its quiet, unspoiled beauty but to its lack of human activity for any purposes other than good.

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No one owns or governs Antarctica. It is one of the few places in the world that has never seen war — or any military activity, for that matter. It is a place whose only permanent inhabitants are wild animals (penguins, seabirds, seals, and whales among them) and whose human inhabitants are scientists and those who support their work.

The Antarctic Treaty, entered into force in 1961, stipulates that the continent be used for peaceful and scientific purposes only. Currently, mining, drilling, and any military activity is banned on the continent. Yet with the treaty up for review in 2048, there is concern that this may change.

China is stepping up its presence in Antarctica, with four research stations, a new air squadron, and plans to build another station, raising concerns about its intentions in Antarctica for exploiting natural resources, which include fish, oil, minerals, and perhaps even diamonds. As this article notes, “Beijing has made it ‘loud and clear to domestic audiences’ that these natural resources are its main interest in the region.” China is already fishing for krill, as are South Korea and Russia, countries that also have their eyes on securing their stakes on the continent. And the Japanese have long conducted illegal whaling hunts in the Southern Ocean under the guise of research.

Currently in Hobart, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is meeting in hopes of establishing a marine protected areas in the Antarctic’s Southern Ocean. Russia is the one nation that, after blocking conservation attempts five times in the past, delegates hope will come on board this year. If CCAMLR can establish the three marine protected areas it hopes to this year (in the Weddell Sea, the Ross Sea, and East Antarctica), this will limit commercial fishing and help protect the entire ecosystem.

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Antarctica is one of the few places on earth where animals can roam without any human predators, and where everyone works together for the common good. Unfortunately, the continent cannot fully escape what goes on in the rest of the world — the entire region is suffering the effects of climate change, and the Antarctic peninsula is among the fastest-warming places on earth — but right now, Antarctica the only place on earth where peace reigns. And we need to make sure it stays this way forever.

 



The dangers of polar travel

By Midge Raymond,

As the ice melts in the Arctic, tour companies are taking advantage of the ability to bring tourists to the region like never before. As I noted in this article for The Daily Beast, “despite all our technological advances, a ship is only as safe as her captain—and the capricious nature of ice and polar weather means even an experienced captain isn’t immune from human error.”

And due to these new opportunities, tour companies like the one that owns the luxury cruise ship Crystal Serenity, are taking advantage. Yet when it comes to polar cruises, bigger is most certainly not better. This article in The Guardian (titled “A new Titanic?”) made the point very clearly: “If something were to go wrong it would be very, very bad.”

And another article, in the Telegraph (titled “The world’s most dangerous cruise?”) reported: “In 2010 it took a Canadian icebreaker 40 hours to evacuate just 120 passengers from the 330ft Clipper Adventurer when it ran aground on an underwater cliff. At times, Serenity will be 1,000 miles and at least 11 hours’ response time from coast guard assistance.”

In other words, this cruise was extremely risky — and while its voyage was successful, the risks will increase if this type of tourism becomes a trend.

In the last 15 years, cruise-ship tourism in Norway has grown from 200,000 to almost 700,000 visitors. Canada’s fleet of passenger vessels was 11 in 2005 and rose to 40 in 2015. Iceland’s foreign tourists have more than tripled since the year 2000, to nearly a million visitors a year—about three times Iceland’s population. And in Antarctica, the number of visitors this season is expected to be upwards of 40,000—more than double what it was in 2004.

Can the planet’s most vulnerable places handle much more tourism?

As the Antarctic tour season begins next month, the concerns are similar to those of cruises in the Arctic; it’s an unpredictable place where there are not enough resources to rescue large numbers of passengers and crew were something to happen. Last year, a small tourist vessel was damaged by ice and, while all on board were safe, the company had to cancel its next voyage. It’s worth noting that this happened in the South Shetland Islands, which is pretty far north on an Antarctic cruise; in other words, ice is unpredictable even farther north and can wreak havoc on ships anytime and anywhere.

While Antarctic travel is considered safe (unlike these new uncharted voyages in the Arctic; as this Guardian article notes, “even before the Crystal Serenity began planning its voyage, the coast guard and local communities were raising concerns that the Arctic was not ready for the sharp rise in traffic through the Bering Strait”), all travelers should carefully vet their tour operators, most of which follow the guidelines of IAATO, and choose a company with vast experience in ice-filled waters. The Southern Ocean is highly unpredictable, and an experienced captain, crew, and staff makes all the difference — not only for the safety of passengers but for wildlife as well.

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Crime & punishment among the penguins

By Midge Raymond,

This New York Times article outlines one of the most interesting aspects of life in Antarctica: It’s a continent owned by no one, which means that there is no rule of law for a land nearly twice the size of Australia.

Everyone working in Antarctica is subject to the rules of their home country, which means that if you work at the U.S. base McMurdo, you’re required to live by the laws of the United States. But what happens when you visit the nearby New Zealand base at Scott Station?

As this article outlines, crime is fairly rare (there’s not much to steal and nowhere to flee), but the isolation and abundance of alcohol can make for criminal activity nonetheless — and this is when things can get complicated. As the article notes:

An unsolved death. Assault with a deadly weapon. Lots of alcohol-fueled misbehavior. It’s quite a rap sheet for a continent where almost nobody lives.

Fortunately, most researchers and staff go to Antarctica in peace. And, once there, that’s most often what they find.

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Book tour Australia

By Midge Raymond,

I was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to go to Australia to promote My Last Continent … it was a whirlwind trip of work and play, with plenty of both. (And with Admiral Byrd along, I’m thinking he needs his own credit card to earn some airline miles.)

We began in Adelaide, where I did an interview with Cath Kenneally of Arts Breakfast on Radio Adelaide the morning after arriving in the country. You can listen to the interview here (I was a teeny bit jet-lagged; it took me a couple of seconds to realize we were on the air…).

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Post-interview was a great day for wandering around town. Adelaide is a beautiful city, a university town with two gorgeous museums near the University of Adelaide. We saw this bust of Antarctica explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, as well as an exhibit about his adventures in the South Australian Museum.

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The next day, John and I taught a marketing workshop at the SA Writers Centre, an all-day affair with writers from myriad genres. Adelaide has a great many pubs and restaurants, so that was a perfect way to end the day.

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Onward to Melbourne, where John, Admiral Byrd, and I spent several days enjoying the city, signing books, and meeting fabulous people, including my wonderful publishing team at Text Publishing and the lovely and talented writers Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist.

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Graeme’s new novel, The Best of Adam Sharp, has just launched in Australia, and Anne’s second psychological thriller, Dangerous to Know, was released earlier this year. Anne and Graeme are currently writing a novel together: Left Right, a romantic comedy set on the Camino de Santiago, is forthcoming from Text Publishing in 2017.

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While in Melbourne, I visited many fabulous bookstores (there will be many Bookstore Geek posts forthcoming!) and especially enjoyed seeing the majestic State Library of Victoria.

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Then it was onward to Brisbane for the Brisbane Writers Festival, where I had the chance to chat with Lionel Shriver at the opening reception just before she launched us into the festival with a presentation that turned out to be the talk of not only the festival but the literary world. (You can read Shriver’s full speech here. She also wrote an op-ed for the New York Times.)

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The festival was nonstop busy for most of us writers, but it was wonderful to get to meet and talk with so many at various events, as well as in the green room, which featured a fabulous spread of books. (My luggage was significantly heavier on the way home.)

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After three events onsite at the magnificent State Library of Queensland, my last event in Brisbane was BWF in the ‘Burbs, a conversation about My Last Continent at the Garden City Library about twenty minutes outside the city.

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Finally, it was onward to Sydney, where John, Sascha Morrell, and I presented a seminar on Writing About Animals at the University of Sydney.

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It was the perfect place to soft-launch Among Animals 2, and best of all we got to meet Sascha, AA2 contributor and university professor, who read from her haunting story “Roo,” which appears in the anthology. Learn more about Among Animals 2 here at Ashland Creek Press.

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And of course, the trip wasn’t all work … John and I got a chance to explore a bit of all four cities and loved them all, for their wildlife, botanical gardens, museums, and incredible beauty. We also ate twice our weight in delicious vegan food (not to mention Australian wines and beer). I’m already looking forward our return …

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Join me in Australia!

By Midge Raymond,

I’m delighted to be heading to Australia this week, where I’ll be doing a series of events around the country.

On September 4 in Adelaide, I’ll be teaching a workshop with John Yunker on book marketing. The workshop includes a copy of Everyday Book Marketing, and all participants will leave the workshop with a customized marketing plan, as well as with ideas for creative book promotions, from book trailers to special events, and for affordable and effective promotional items.

From September 7 to 11, I’ll be joining other artists at the wonderful Brisbane Writers Festival, where I’ll be doing several events, including a master class and a conversation with Joy Lawn about My Last Continent. Learn more here.

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Finally, join me, John Yunker, and Sascha Morrell on September 13 at the University of Sydney for Writing About Animals, a seminar that examines the role literature and language plays in reimagining our relationship with animals. Combined with readings, this seminar will offer insights into the ways in which twenty-first century animal literature can enlighten as well as entertain.

Click here for more info. Admiral Byrd will, of course, be joining me for all events.

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Women in Antarctica

By Midge Raymond,

It was such a pleasure to have the privilege of presenting My Last Continent at the Women’s Museum of California as part of its Second Sunday Author Series: Women’s Voices, Women’s Stories program. Although the narrator of My Last Continent is a female penguin researcher, women are relatively new to Antarctica — the first woman to set foot on the continent didn’t do so in 1935.

Still, women are a big part of Antarctic history; they made it possible for the explorers, all men, to be away for years at a time. (Check out the book Polar Wives for a fascinating look at the lives of the women behind the polar explorers.)

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It took a long time for women to become part of Antarctic research and exploration in their own right. The first woman to land on Antarctica, mentioned above, was the wife of a whaling captain. The first women to winter on the continent, in 1947, were the wives of expedition members. And even the first woman to work for the U.S. Antarctic Program, during the 1969-70 season, was there with her husband.

Yet by 1974, the U.S. base McMurdo Station welcomed the first female chief scientist, and now one-third of the scientists and support staff at McMurdo are women. We still have a long way to go, but it’s great to see this trend.

And this year has seen an increasing spotlight on women working in Antarctica. And, as part of an initiative to bring women scientists together, a women-only expedition to Antarctica will depart for the continent this December. In addition to science, tourism brings many women scientists, researchers, and naturalists to Antarctica as well.

For some fantastic reading about women in Antarctica, check out the short story “Sur” by Ursula K. LeGuin…one of my favorite short stories ever, and a brilliant glimpse, albeit fictional, into women’s lives in the Antarctic.

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Bookstore Geek: Papercuts J.P.

By Midge Raymond,

I was delighted to celebrate My Last Continent‘s book launch in my former hometown of Boston, where I was able to do a brief “Facebook Live” reading from Antarctic explorer Admiral Richard Byrd’s former home on Beacon Hill before an event at one of Boston’s most wonderful treasures, Papercuts J.P.

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Kate and Katie (Kate Layte, owner and manager, and Katie Eelman, media and events coordinator) are such wonderful hosts; this event (and most events here at Papercuts J.P.) are more like parties than book readings. The store is cozy, and Kate and Katie often match up writers for a more in-depth exploration of books, theme, and genre.

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At this event, I joined novelist Mark Beauregard (The Whale: A love story) and Rachel Richardson (Hundred-Year Wave) for readings and a discussion of love, the high seas, research, writing, and so much more.

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And perhaps most celebratory of all, on the day of our event, copies of The Papercuts Anthology: What Happened Here, Volume 1 arrived. This terrific anthology features work by writers who visited the store during Papercuts’ first year, including Abigail Thomas, Edan Lepucki, Randy Susan Meyers, Chris Hedges, and many more.

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It’s obvious from the nature of our High Seas event and the beautifully edited and designed anthology that both Kate and Katie have a passion for books and a talent for curating them. And, much to my delight, they enjoyed My Last Continent, which later made their list of bestsellers.

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The next time you’re in Boston, don’t miss “this tiny Boston icon,” as The Guardian calls it. In the meantime, follow Papercuts J.P.  on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.





Join me tonight for an Antarctic adventure & film screening

By Midge Raymond,

I am delighted to be speaking at the Tierrasanta Talks Adventure tonight at 6:15 p.m. This event, by the fabulous Adventures by the Book, is $10 and supports the Tierrasanta Village of San Diego — a nonprofit, grassroots membership organization that enables its members to age in place in a caring community setting — which will receive a portion of tonight’s proceeds.

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Join us for drinks at 6:15, followed by a reading and discussion of My Last Continent — as well as all things Antarctic and penguin! — and then stay for a screening of the Academy Award-winning film March of the Penguins. I look forward to seeing you there!

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Join me at the Women’s Museum of California on July 10!

By Midge Raymond,

Join me on Sunday, July 10, at 4 p.m. for a the Women’s Museum of California’s Second Sunday Author Series: Women’s Voices, Women’s Stories.

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I am delighted to be part of this fabulous series, curated by Wild Women, Wild Voices author Judy Reeves and supported by San Diego Writers Ink and Point Loma Tea. And I am looking forward to an afternoon talking about My Last Continent, as well as women in science, women artists and writers, and so much more!

Click here to RSVP – I look forward to seeing you there!



Scenes from the book tour

By Midge Raymond,

The first two weeks of the My Last Continent book tour have been incredible — it was such fun to visit Boston, New York, Portland, and Seattle, as well as to celebrate here in Ashland.

As many of you know, my travel companion is Admiral Byrd (those of you who have read My Last Continent will know why he’s so named), and he’s the one who’s been photobombing all my book tour photos. The most frequent comment I get when people see Admiral Byrd in person is, “I thought he was so much bigger.” In fact, he’s a tiny little thing, given to me by a dear friend just before My Last Continent was published. It seemed so fitting that he should join me on the tour.

I’m heading to Southern California soon for another month of events (check them out here!), and in the meantime, here are a few scenes from the past couple of weeks. Join me on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter to follow Admiral Byrd’s (and my) adventures as the tour continues!

Below: Admiral Byrd in the city of Boston and at Papercuts J.P., for a fabulous event with Mark Beauregard and Rachel Richardson….

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New York included visits to my brilliant agent and the amazing team at Scribner before a reading at Shakespeare & Co. that evening…

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The Ashland event at Bloomsbury Books was so festive, with an overflowing crowd of more than 60 friends and readers…

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Powell’s City of Books was especially fun as the crowd included a group of young writers whose energy and great questions made it a lively evening. (And if you’d like a signed copy of My Last Continent, you can order it here!)

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And at Seattle’s iconic Elliott Bay Book Company, I saw plenty of friends and met readers who came in from a gorgeous Seattle evening. (And Elliott Bay also has signed copies of My Last Continent…)

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Seattle: See you tonight at Elliott Bay!

By Midge Raymond,

I was so privileged to have read at Elliott Bay Book Company years ago, when Forgetting English was published, in its former location in Pioneer Square.

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Elliott Bay’s new Capitol Hill location is different in appearance, yet the spirit of this incredible store and its dedicated booksellers remains. I look forward to seeing you all tonight at 7 p.m.!