“Having photographed and documented life and culture on every continent has become an extension of the research and work I do to better understand globalization and to see first-hand the modern-day trends affecting business, government, and cultural development efforts.” — Derran Eaddy, M.A.
On March 4, 2020, I stepped off a 275-foot-long ship named the Ushuaia and took a seat on an inflatable Zodiak raft headed toward one of the most remote shores on the planet. When we reached land, my tall rubber boots led the way: first breaking through a few inches of frigid water—then continuing to push down until making contact with the rocky, frozen surface of a threatened glacier.
I had reached Antarctica during the bicentennial (200th) anniversary of its discovery in 1820, and joined a relatively small group of travelers who have made their way around the world, setting foot on each of our planet’s seven continents.
(Video Closed Captions available. Music Credit: The Solstik Project)
For most people, there is never a good time to fly over 6,500 miles to the southernmost tip of South America, and then continue another 600 miles, through the Drake Passage over a few days by boat. It wasn’t a good time for me, either—but I went regardless.
While most people would say that I traveled alone, I knew that I was traveling among the 1.4 billion people who take international trips each year. The logistics were daunting: A missed connection. A lost bag. A forgotten item. It all could have made a real difference.
Recently, tour providers have made Antarctica somewhat more accessible, bringing around 50,000 visitors to the destination each year; but in comparison, more than 65 million people visit New York City annually.
For obvious reasons Antarctica is nearly uninhabited. Its population is estimated to vary from 4,000 people in the summer down to only 1,000 during its harsh winter season. The ice and snow covered region is the only continent without a native population; and it is unique in that at least once a year, the sun is visible at midnight, and at least once a year the sun cannot be seen at noon. I visited in the summer, so the daytime temperatures when I was there hovered about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and reminded me of mild winter days on the United States (US) East Coast.
To govern life and activity on Antarctica, approximately 50 countries, including the US, have signed on to the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), which addresses territorial land claims in the region south of 60-degrees longitude. The original treaty was signed by 12 countries on December 1, 1959 and went into force on June 23, 1961. The 12 countries originally signing the treaty included Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, and USSR. The ATS reserves the continent for research purposes and seeks to prohibit military activity.
The history of Antarctica’s discovery and exploration is as complex as the discovery of other parts of the Americas, and include familiar names, such as Ferdinand Magellan, for whom the south Argentina passageway, the Straits of Magellan, is named; and Francis Drake who was sent far southward of the straits by high winds. The diversion caused him to discover the Drake Passage that is used by vessels navigating to Antarctica today. Of significant importance; however, is that these access points—ones that are still used to reach Antarctica—had already been recorded on maps that were reportedly shown to the explorers, giving them specific insight into where they should navigate their ships. Over time, the original names of the passageways have been changed to the references that we now use.
While historical accounts vary, some give Russian explorer Fabian Gottlieb van Bellingshausen credit for being the first person, on January 27, 1820, to see Antarctica. American explorer John Davis is credited with being the first person to step foot on Antarctica in February of 1821, during a voyage looking for seals in the South Shetlands.
Today, researchers are focusing on glacial loss and rising temperatures related to climate change. On February 9, 2020, temperatures on Antarctica’s Seymour Island reached a record high 69 degrees, and matched the day’s weather in Los Angeles, California. Glaciers twice the size of major cities and equal the size of small countries are now breaking off in a process known as calving. These glaciers are expected to drift away and melt into the ocean, causing sea-levels to rise and resulting in significant environmental changes.
I went to Antarctica this year because I don’t know what tomorrow holds. Since visiting Africa in 2011, I have steadily worked my way around the continents in order to gain a better understanding of globalization and to see first-hand the modern-day trends affecting business, government, and cultural development efforts. From the densely populated urban centers to the ice-covered reaches of Antarctica, there are 7.5 billion people worldwide with unique needs and market demands. An additional 85 million people are being added to the Earth’s population each year.
As our world continues to become more interconnected and interdependent, the similarities and differences that I have seen and experienced among cultures around the world are compelling and inspiring, yet present many challenges, from expanding access to stable municipal, banking, electric, and water infrastructures to providing access to healthcare, education and economic development opportunities.
Derran Eaddy is an award-winning communications practitioner based in Washington, DC. He is a former U.S. Senate Fellow and served as a State Commissioner in New Mexico. He is serving as an Ambassador to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The SOLST1K Project is a Washington, D.C. based creative venture that is capturing images, recording music and producing short videos. info[at]solstik.com