Penguins and Antarctic Ambassadors celebrate today | Polarjournal
Penguins are usually photographed by tourists from all angles. But in between, the environment or the last shot must also be checked. Because Antarctica inspires with diversity. (Photo: Dr Michael Wenger)

Antarctica inspires and fascinates people all over the world. The icy world and their animal inhabitants beyond 60 degrees south latitude hold incredible magic for both scientists and the public. Especially penguins are one of the most famous and popular Antarctic species. Therefore it is not surprising that on the one hand the animals have their own holiday and on the other hand the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators IAATO declares this day as the new “Antarctic Ambassador” day.

However, both programs want to do more than celebrate this April 25; they also want to bring more information about Antarctica and its inhabitants to the public and encourage people to look deeper into the problems and possible solutions. After all, one of the goals of the IAATO’s Antarctic Ambassador Program is to show people that Antarctica is not an isolated place, but that all the actions people take at home also have an impact thousands of miles away, both positive and negative. And not just on the penguins, but on the whole system.

Over 70,000 visitors were recorded in Antarctica before the pandemic, most of them tourists. Many of these visitors could also inspire other people at home for the white world and its protection by telling their stories, informing and live by example, just like a real ambassador. (Photo: Dr Michael Wenger)

The IAATO Ambassador Program has been an integral part of the association since its inception. However, with the launch of “Antarctic Ambassador Day” and the new LEAP concept (Love & respect, Educate, Advocate, Protect) characterizing current and future ambassadors, the aim is to take advantage of the reach and opportunities offered by modern communications and draw attention to Antarctic issues among the general public. “Ambassador education has never been completely formalized,” explains Lori Gross, a member of the Education and Outreach Working Group at IAATO. The LEAP concept therefore created a new structure and defined exactly what constitutes and can be done by an Antarctic ambassador. This includes sharing images for Citizen Science projects such as photo-identifying whales in Antarctica, giving presentations in one’s immediate environment such as schools or groups, and changing one’s behavior at home such as not using disposable plastic or rethinking car use. “Many small climate-positive actions at home can ultimately support Antarctica as well,” says Laura Smith, also a member of the IAATO working group.

IAATO has used the past two years, during which travel to Antarctica has been completely canceled or limited due to the pandemic, to not only create fancy graphics for Ambassador Day, but to put together a real program for the future and open it up to anyone who wants to preserve Antarctica. Graphics: IAATO

In this respect, the program is open to any person who is committed to the region and its protection and preservation. “The ambassador program is something that anyone can get involved in,” explains Gina Greer, IAATO’s executive director. “We are excited to host the first Antarctica Ambassador Day and hope it will inspire more people to join this exciting community.”

Originally, World Penguin Day was created by researchers at the U.S. McMurdo Station who noticed during research that Adélie penguins migrate toward the open ocean around April 25. To raise awareness of the problems penguins experience in their habitats from the Galapagos Islands to the Antarctic Ross Sea, they created this special commemoration day. And Antarctic Ambassadors can now also draw attention to these problems on their very own day. Of the 18 known penguin species, only five are classified as “least concerned”, five as “endangered” and six as “vulnerable”. Two species are classified as “near threatened.” Threats range from climate change and pollution to pressure from fisheries.

Tourism is also often considered a threat to penguin colonies. But the IAATO, in collaboration with numerous scientific groups and institutions, is creating sustainable and environmentally sound guidelines to protect penguins and other Antarctic organisms. This is precisely what the ambassador program is also intended to convey and communicate. The aim is to show that it is indeed possible to bring people closer to the beauty of Antarctic nature and to protect it at the same time. This is what April 25 is supposed to stand for in Antarctica in the future.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

Link to the “Antarctic Ambassador”website

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