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My 3 letters from the Penguin Post Office


Did you see the BBC2 Natural World documentary ‘Penguin Post Office’? It was a penguin extravaganza set at one of the UK’s most remote outposts.

Port Lockroy, Goudier Island is located just off the Antarctic Peninsula. The historic British base was built in 1944, during a secret wartime mission called Operation Tabarin. It operated as a scientific research station until 1962, when it was abandoned.

More than three decades later, the base was restored and has operated every year since as a ‘living museum’ – a time-capsule of early scientific life in Antarctica. Operation Tabarin was the origin of the British Antarctic Survey, now an internationally respected centre of excellence for Antarctic science.

Gentoo penguin,Port Lockroy, Antarctica. Copyright: Pete Bucktrout, Norman Cobley, British Antarctic Survey Gentoo penguin,Port Lockroy, Antarctica. Copyright: Pete Bucktrout, Norman Cobley, British Antarctic Survey

Port Lockroy is stunningly beautiful, a tiny island no larger than a few football pitches, set against a backdrop of towering glaciers and the breath-taking Seven Sisters mountain range. It’s also one of the most visited sites in Antarctica by tourists.

I managed Port Lockroy for a number of years, and was privileged to spend seven months there over the course of two Antarctic summers. I shared the island with one colleague and over 700 pairs of gentoo penguins. We helped to establish one of the longest running continuous monitoring studies on the impact of tourism in Antarctica.

The penguins nested around the building, under it and occasionally up on the roof if the snow built up high enough!  They nested right outside the front door, and inquisitive chicks would come waddling up the steps and into the base to check up on us!

Gentoo penguin. Copyright: naturepl.co.uk/David Tipling/WWF-CanonGentoo penguin. Copyright: naturepl.co.uk/David Tipling/WWF-Canon

If I was ever to return to Port Lockroy, what three letters would I send from the Penguin Post Office?

My first letter

My first might be to President Vladimir Putin. There is probably a lot that I would like to write to Mr Putin about, but as I am back in Antarctica I would respectfully ask the President and his officials who attend the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctica Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to join the vast majority of nations who are supporting large-scale priority Marine Protected Areas around the Southern Ocean. This would leave an amazing legacy for the Russian Federation and for all the other CCAMLR nations.

My second letter

My second letter would be to Prime Minister David Cameron. I would remind him that we took him up to the Arctic back in 2006 to witness first-hand the effects of climate change. On Tuesday, the Government took the welcome step of confirming that it will stand by the fourth carbon budget (PDF)

However, current policies fall short of what is required to achieve these targets and the PM has rarely spoken about climate change since taking office. I might even offer to take him down to the Antarctic peninsula, the most rapidly warming area in the Southern Hemisphere. I hope that seeing this first hand would remind him why he took a stand in 2006 and convince him to reaffirm his commitment to tackling climate change.

My third letter

And my third letter would be to my three month old son. I would write at length about the beautiful planet we live on and the amazing species that we share it with.

In particular, I would write about the magnificent glaciers that boom louder than cannon when they calve. I would write of humpback whales breaching and of killer whales teaching their young to hunt crabeater seals off ice floes. I would  write  mostly about the penguins, how the tiny beaks of new-born chicks break through their shells into the Antarctic wilderness that is their home; how the adults busy themselves throughout the day squabbling with neighbours and stealing pebbles to create the perfect nest.

And I would write to him about the otherworldly purity of the Antarctic ice, and the unimaginably vivid and explosive colours of an Antarctic dawn. I guess those are just some of the things that are important to me, and to WWF.

Who would you send a letter to from the Penguin Post Office? Leave us your comments.

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