Click here to learn about last year’s winner, Mary Heather Noble, selected by bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler, whose novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award and the 2014 California Book Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
I came across two very different glimpses of Antarctica recently — one terrifying, and the other gorgeous. Of course, they’re connected…the first (NASA images of a gigantic iceberg breaking off a glacier) is a strong warning that we need to do something about climate change before what we see in the second (stunning video captured by a drone) disappears altogether.
This graphic is amazing because NASA captured imagery of the iceberg splitting from the continent just before and just after. It may look small in this image, but remember, this was shot from space! The iceberg, which broke off of West Antarctica’s Getz ice shelf, is 17 miles long (larger than Manhattan) and only one of many that have been breaking off the continent’s glaciers and floating into the sea (which will cause the oceans to rise to catastrophic levels). Check out the article for more info and photos.
And this gorgeous film was made by a Swedish filmmaker visiting Antarctica during this last tourist season … it shows the continent it all its quiet beauty, and in a few of the images you can see just how tiny human life feels in this vast place. Below is one of the stills from Kalle Ljung’s film … definitely worth watching, especially if you need a few moments of peace — it’s very meditative.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) is a voluntary membership organization founded in 1991 to help Antarctic tourism keep up the standards of the Antarctic Treaty, that is: to protect the environment and to keep developing guidelines to continue to preserve and protect the continent.
Recently, IAATO released its latest tourism numbers, and I always find it interesting to gauge the activity in this part of the world. The total numbers of visitors traveling to Antarctica (with IAATO members) was 36,702. This is 2 percent less than the previous season; the highest recorded number of tourists visiting the continent was 46,265 during the 2007-2008 season.
IAATO also estimated the numbers of visitors expected next season, 2015-2016, and this edges closer to that high number: 40,029. The organization expects this increase to be among those smaller cruise ships that do landings, which means safer travel yet more feet on the ground in Antarctica.
This past season, 73 percent of Antarctic visitors traveled on small ships carrying fewer than 500 passengers — yet it’s the 26 percent of visitors who cruise through on larger ships without making landings that can be even more dangerous. These ships often carry thousands of passengers, and when you get into trouble that far south, rescues are challenging.
In 2007, a Canadian ship struck underwater ice in the waters off the Antarctic peninsula and sank within 15 hours. Fortunately, the ship had only 91 passengers, all of whom got into lifeboats and received help from a Norwegian ship that was nearby. In addition, the weather was good, around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (fairly balmy for Antarctica) and calm. But what if there had been hundreds more passengers, or if the weather had turned, or if no other ships were close by?
Traveling to Antarctica comes with inherent risk — it is, by nature, a wild and unpredictable place — and IAATO continues to keep the safety and environmental standards as high as possible. By now, most ships that travel to Antarctica are IAATO members, which wasn’t always the case. But with tens of thousands of tourists visiting annually, and this number only increasing, the continent is bound to be affected. My hope is that visitors return with a new respect for the planet and for all that we need to do to keep it healthy, and to keep Antarctica icy.
Of course, many believe we shouldn’t visit at all … like John Oliver, who has created a hilarious (anti) travel campaign for the white continent.
This was in 2006, and back then it had been about 15 years since the previous census. A small group of volunteers, we counted all the penguins in 731 circles (in teams of two, we counted all the nests, birds, and eggs within five-meter circles spaced about twenty meters apart) and discovered that there were 155,000 nesting pairs at Punta Tombo.
This colony has been studied for about 30 years, and unfortunately, the number of active nests at Punta Tombo has decreased by about 1 percent each year. Reproduction was better than average this past season, but there were fewer active nests, which means fewer chicks fledged than in most years. The main cause of chick death was, as usual, starvation — due to overfishing, penguins have trouble finding food close to the colony, and when they have to go farther for food, it’s more likely they won’t make it back in time to feed their hungry chicks. Climate change has also affected the penguins — one rainstorm this season killed 3% of the chicks from a 100-nest area.
Like these two lovebirds nesting above, many penguins mate for life — and the research being done will help us figure out how best to help them survive on the long term.
When I was writing MY LAST CONTINENT, I did a lot of research on penguins and those who study them.
Then, a couple of months ago, I discovered Penguin Watch, which is a completely addictive website that uses citizen science to help study penguins. What this means is that we can all take part in the research and conservation of these amazing animals.
How does it all work? The short of it is that the Penguin Lifelines project at the University of Oxford has set up a camera-monitoring program of 50 cameras set up throughout the Southern Ocean and along the Antarctic Peninsula. These cameras snap images of the areas overlooking colonies of gentoo, chinstrap, Adélie, and king penguins year-round, and they need volunteers to help annotate the hundreds of thousands of images being produced. For more info, click here — and sign up!
Penguin colonies are difficult to access during breeding season, but thanks to time-lapse cameras and online volunteers, the Penguin Watch program hopes to make big strides in conservation and protection.
Visit Penguin Watch and become a citizen scientist. It’s tons of fun, but be warned — you’ll lose hours to penguin counting! But at least you can say you’re doing it for science.
Write about the last time you used public transportation. Whether it was your morning commute or a European vacation, be as detailed as possible, noting such things as the weather; the people aboard the train, bus, or ferry; and the passing of time.
With Earth Day coming up on Wednesday, April 22, I wanted to devote today’s writing prompt to Cassie Premo Steele’s new book, Earth Joy Writing.
This is a book not only for writers but for anyone who wishes to reconnect with nature. The readings, meditations, and writing prompts are divided by month and season, and in honor of Earth Day, here’s one from April:
Go outdoors and notice five different things. It could be one bird. One tree. One cloud. One flower. Or one fallen leaf. What five things asked you to pay attention to them?
Start with one image…Write that image down, and then keep writing.
Write about this past winter. Have things in your region been normal — or unusually cold, unseasonably hot, extremely stormy? Write about how the climate has changed over time where you live. (Don’t forget to use all the senses!)
The idea of email marketing may seem a little overly sales-y, but having a mailing list is a great way to keep friends, family, and colleagues in the loop — not to mention new readers and anyone you meet who may be interested in your book. The nice thing about a mailing list is that it’s one more way to reach out; for example, you likely have some Facebook friends who go months without logging in, but you’ll still want to make sure they know about a book giveaway or an upcoming event.
To create your mailing list, you’ll begin with family and close friends; then, begin to ask colleagues and more casual acquaintances whether you may add them to your mailing list. And, whenever you do a reading or any other event, pass around a guest book or a simple sign-up sheet so that readers can sign up to receive your mailings.
Among those who should be included on your mailing list are (and note that you should always get permission from the recipient before adding anyone to your list):
immediate and extended family
classmates and former classmates, from grade school through grad school
writer friends or members of your writers’ group
parents of your kids’ friends and friends of family who may be interested
colleagues, past and present
If your list is long, you’ll want to be sure to send out emails in small batches (twenty recipients or so) to avoid being targeted for spamming. As your list grows, you should consider signing up for an email service (I like Mail Chimp, which has free options and plenty of easy-to-use templates; Mad Mimi and Campaign Monitor are also popular). These programs allow you to design nice announcements about your book launch and other events; you can also do more lengthy e-newsletters if you have a lot to share.
A few pointers for email marketing:
Be clear about what you’ll be sending. When people sign up for something, they like to know what it is, so don’t hide the fact that you’ll be sending out updates on your book; even if it sounds promotional, you need to manage expectations (and see below for how to do more than simply promote yourself). Also, be sure to let subscribers know that you won’t be sharing their email addresses with anyone else; maintaining the privacy of those who trust you with their email addresses is important.
Don’t send e-mails too frequently. If, for example, you’re a teacher and hold frequent events, you might send out a regular e-newsletter, as long as the information is relevant to its recipients. But if you’re simply sending out announcements about the occasional event or new review, be a little more restrained; if you send out too many e-mails with too little content (or content that is simply self-promotional), people may stop reading them or they may unsubscribe. Also, these email campaigns take valuable time to create, so you’ll want to use this time wisely. I recommend sending out monthly emails if you have a lot of news to share; otherwise, I recommend quarterly updates (or even fewer). Either way, try to be consistent, so that no one hears from you too often but so they don’t think you’ve dropped off the face of the earth, either.
Create different lists. This can take a lot of time initially, but it’s very valuable in the end. For example, if you’re a New York City writer with an email list of 1,000 recipients all over the country, and you’re doing a series of events in New York, not everyone needs to receive an email about these events. When you pass out a guest book or sign-up sheet, ask people to add their locations so that you can better target your audience.
Offer a little more than promotion. While the purpose of the email may be to promote your book, offer a little something more as well — recipients may tire of the content if it’s always the same and always about you. For my own newsletter for writers (which I send out four to six times a year), I include a writing tip and a writing prompt, so that among any promotional stuff there will always be something for writers in there. I also try to add things that may be helpful for writers, from writerly resources I like to writing software I’ve discovered. You can also include links to other writers, blogs, and websites that you think your audience will enjoy — and consider offering book giveaways or other bonuses to your subscribers.
Be friendly and personal. One mistake I made when I first started sending out e-newsletters was aiming to sound extremely professional. Then I noticed, having received a number of such emails myself, that this is a little boring and impersonal. So now I try to be casual and accessible, and I keep mailings short and to the point. You should always show how readers can unsubscribe if they’d like to, and it’s a great idea to invite feedback and comments. And always proofread your email before sending it. Typos happen, but I usually create a campaign at least a week in advance so I can look at it again with fresh eyes before scheduling it.
Use pictures. Visuals are great for email campaigns; no one wants to wade through a ton of text, and most people simply skim through email announcements or newsletters anyway, so you’ll want a mix of text and images to help keep readers’ attention. You must, of course, own the rights to any photo you use — an exception is your book cover, which you’ll be allowed to use for marketing purposes, so you might consider having a banner highlighting the title and/or some of the cover design; think of it as your logo. (If you have more than one book, you can use the most recent one, or use something from your website that will familiarize readers with you as an author.) Choose a template that is easy on the eyes, with plenty of white space to make it skimmable and reader friendly.
Don’t over-design. While you want to be visually appealing, don’t make the mistake of going crazy with too many images (which could be distracting) or fancy fonts (which could be hard to read). Strive for simple and engaging.
Make use of the tools. If you use an email marketing service, check out the tools it offers for tracking who opens your emails, which links are most popular, etc. You can also experiment with sending your news out at different times of day and different times of the week to see what the best results are. Nowadays, email services allow you to connect your campaigns with social media, so you can link your enews with Twitter or Facebook if you’d like. It’s worth spending a little time on these to gauge the effects of your marketing efforts.
Don’t worry about the “unsubscribes.” One thing I love about Mail Chimp is the little line that comes along with a notification that someone has just unsubscribed from my list; it reads: “Maybe they’re just not into you?” This always makes me smile, which is important when someone has just unsubscribed from my list. I find myself worrying about all sorts of things: Was my email too boring? Was it something I said? Did they read my book and hate it? The fact is, people are overwhelmed with email and it’s likely not personal (and if it is, there’s not much you can do about it anyway, so it’s best not to fret over it). Most often, I suspect, people unsubscribe for reasons having more to do with their own lives than with the content of your email.