A chilling thought

This SUMMER READING piece is by JOLLY READ, a journalist and environmentalist from Fremantle, who recently went on a life-changing trip to Antarctica.

IT was a very odd feeling to return from sub zero temperatures of Antarctica to the summer heat of South Beach.

Odder still was witnessing an extraordinary display of a dozen or more breaching humpbacks in icy Fournier Bay, just days before the news that Japan plans to resume whale hunting proper this year, dumping its “for science” charade.

Only a couple of months ago humpbacks were travelling back to the polar continent from their warm breeding waters along our far northern coast.  As they headed home, they provided great whale watching spectacles off Fremantle and elsewhere.

Scientists say the estimated 30,000 humpbacks that migrate annually up and down our coast is the world’s largest population.

New research last year identified that whales are born along a longer migratory corridor than previously thought, with calving extending down from Camden Sound in the Kimberley to at least the Ningaloo coast in the Pilbara.

Whale hunting was banned internationally in 1986, and since then whale species killed to near extinction are recovering.

But new threats to their survival, including Japanese hunting, are being brought to the world’s attention thanks to the efforts of organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund.

The WWF recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a unique and memorable expedition to Antarctica, saluting its decades of work that has focused on stopping the degradation of the planet’s natural environment by conserving the world’s biological diversity.

Part of that mission has been to support conservation measures for whales, including humpbacks, and oppose hunting by Japan under the guise of scientific purpose, and by Norway and Iceland as well.

It says that in this day and age with DNA sampling and remote monitoring, there is no need for scientists to kill whales to study them.

This point was emphasised during the trip by WWF Antarctic program senior manager, Chris Johnson, after the brilliant display in Fournier Bay. Now, worryingly, Japan has announced it is withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission so it can resume whale hunting without needing its scientific program excuse.

Mr Johnson and the WWF have been part of an international program that has seen whales tagged for tracking purposes, revealing the Antarctic Peninsular is vital for resting and feeding; particularly for humpbacks. More than $57,000 was raised during the trip to cover almost one year of whale tagging research.

Hunting aside, modern commercial krill fishing, increasing tourism and pressure from climate change is posing new threats to the whales and other Antarctic wildlife.

The WWF is supporting a push for the creation of a network of Antarctic Marine Protected Areas to help safeguard the whales and the continent’s other wildlife into the future.

But these measures are just the tip of the environmental iceberg.

On board were renowned explorer and environmental scientist Tim Jarvis, and former Australian of the Year and scientist, Professor Tim Flannery.

Both spoke of the urgent need for climate action, saying the time for talk has run out.

Immediate and dramatic action, they both emphasised, is needed to stave off the dire consequences of global warming that are now upon us.

Professor Flannery warned that simply cutting emissions is no longer a viable answer.

It is now imperative the global economy finds ways to biologically and chemically draw CO2 out of the atmosphere.

He cites kelp farms as one example with huge potential for seaweed to drawdown and store carbon.

He is optimistic that effective global responses will be found but worries it is not happening fast enough.

Tim Jarvis echoed the time challenge and says too much focus and emphasis is placed on fear and guilt.

Rather, he says, leadership is needed to inspire business, governments and people to become more actively involved in saving the planet and oceans from climate change.

He says melting glaciers are the clearest way to show climate change and influence people’s concepts and awareness.

He came to this conclusion following his epic 2013 retracing of the famous Antarctic survival journey in 1916 by polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

He noticed the dramatic retreat of glaciers that had been crossed and documented by Shackleton in his diaries.

Instead, Jarvis and his team found melt-water lakes that they had to wade across.

He set up the Shackleton Climate Project and subsequently founded 25zero, a project that uses dramatic images of melting equatorial glaciers and “stories of people affected by their decline to ‘show’ climate change, engage new people in the issue and fund climate change projects”.

Jarvis says there are 25 mountains with glaciers on the Equator and within 25 years the last remaining glaciers will have gone due to climate change.

It’s a long way from zero latitude to the bottom of the world but the same thing is being replicated with southern polar glaciers in alarming retreat and melting due to warming seas.

While scientists have been aware of rapid melting on the west Antarctic coast, they thought those on the frozen remote east coast were more stable.

But evidence is showing they too are on a slow meltdown, with a report last year indicating some had lost around 16 billion tonnes of ice each year between 2002 and 2016.

The journey with the WWF was an extraordinary opportunity to experience the unique wonder of the Antarctic, but that wonder brought home the reality of climate change too.

While giant glaciers are on the retreat and melting, there was too much snow for the start of the polar summer; both the result of climate change impacts on weather patterns and sea temperatures.

We were told by the experts on board that it would result in a difficult penguin breeding season because the late snow covered rocky nesting and breeding areas, forcing some to lay eggs in the snow which would not survive.

It was a jarring juxtaposition that reminded us that it is critical for this generation to get on with the job now to find meaningful solutions to the causes and impacts of climate change.

The lives and happiness of the children who follow us depend upon it.


scientist, Professor Tim Flannery.

Both spoke of the urgent need for climate action, saying the time for talk has run out.

Immediate and dramatic action, they both emphasised, is needed to stave off the dire consequences of global warming that are now upon us.

Professor Flannery warned that simply cutting emissions is no longer a viable answer.

It is now imperative the global economy finds ways to biologically and chemically draw CO2 out of the atmosphere.

He cites kelp farms as one example with huge potential for seaweed to drawdown and store carbon.

He is optimistic that effective global responses will be found but worries it is not happening fast enough.

Tim Jarvis echoed the time challenge and says too much focus and emphasis is placed on fear and guilt.

Rather, he says, leadership is needed to inspire business, governments and people to become more actively involved in saving the planet and oceans from climate change.

He says melting glaciers are the clearest way to show climate change and influence people’s concepts and awareness.

He came to this conclusion following his epic 2013 retracing of the famous Antarctic survival journey in 1916 by polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

He noticed the dramatic retreat of glaciers that had been crossed and documented by Shackleton in his diaries.

Instead, Jarvis and his team found melt-water lakes that they had to wade across.

He set up the Shackleton Climate Project and subsequently founded 25zero, a project that uses dramatic images of melting equatorial glaciers and “stories of people affected by their decline to ‘show’ climate change, engage new people in the issue and fund climate change projects”.

Jarvis says there are 25 mountains with glaciers on the Equator and within 25 years the last remaining glaciers will have gone due to climate change.

It’s a long way from zero latitude to the bottom of the world but the same thing is being replicated with southern polar glaciers in alarming retreat and melting due to warming seas.

While scientists have been aware of rapid melting on the west Antarctic coast, they thought those on the frozen remote east coast were more stable.

But evidence is showing they too are on a slow meltdown, with a report last year indicating some had lost around 16 billion tonnes of ice each year between 2002 and 2016.

The journey with the WWF was an extraordinary opportunity to experience the unique wonder of the Antarctic, but that wonder brought home the reality of climate change too.

While giant glaciers are on the retreat and melting, there was too much snow for the start of the polar summer; both the result of climate change impacts on weather patterns and sea temperatures.

We were told by the experts on board that it would result in a difficult penguin breeding season because the late snow covered rocky nesting and breeding areas, forcing some to lay eggs in the snow which would not survive.

It was a jarring juxtaposition that reminded us that it is critical for this generation to get on with the job now to find meaningful solutions to the causes and impacts of climate change.

The lives and happiness of the children who follow us depend upon it.

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