Inside The Diary Of An Antarctic Sabbatical Volunteer

BY Harper's BAZAAR Arabia / Jan 29 2020 / 10:22 AM

Last month, Rasha El Saleh embarked on a groundbreaking scientific research mission to the planet's most remote continent. And BAZAAR got an exclusive look at her diary...

Inside The Diary Of An Antarctic Sabbatical Volunteer

Airbnb and Ocean Conservancy announced the Antarctic Sabbatical last December, an unprecedented opportunity for five passionate individuals to travel to the Earth’s most remote continent and join Antarctic Scientist Kirstie Jones-Williams, on a first-of-its-kind scientific research mission to collect snow samples and study the extent to which microplastics have impacted the interior of Antarctica.

UAE resident Rasha El Saleh was one such selected volunteer to partake in the month-long expedition. Sharing her exclusive diary entries with BAZAAR, the budding explorer sheds light on what it was really like to research the coldest place on Earth...

01/12/2019: We are already two weeks into the Sabbatical and the days here have been packed with activities. We have been preparing in Chile and the time has gone so quickly that we are fast approaching our flight to Antarctica.

I met my teammates, Kjersti from Norway, Spencer from Hawaii, Tia from Arizona and Vivek from India and we clicked instantly. The vibes of the team were filled with positivity, lots of laughter and joy. I found out that each person has a unique background and a story on how they got to connect with the global plastic issue and what made them apply to join the Airbnb Sabbatical. It also amazed me that we share many similar challenges in our communities regarding single-use plastic and marine debris specifically. We got to bond and know each other more through many activities and adventures, making memories that will definitely make it even harder to say goodbye at the end of this sabbatical.

In our preparation, we met the Ocean Conservancy team to talk more about plastics and the effects of it on our oceans. We also went on a three day camping trip to Torres Del Paine National Park and met Torres del Paine Legacy Fund who gave us a chance to support them and act as citizen scientists for the day.  We were collecting information on Lenga Trees, which are native trees in the park that have been affected in forest fires that have started in the park as a result of tourists throwing a cigarette butt or starting a camp fire in an unauthorized area. The most exciting part was when I saw ice for the first time in my life in the form of glaciers! And snow covering the beautiful mountains we were trekking on.

Those experiences opened my eyes to many things, for example the effect of climate change as we saw how the glaciers and the area are affected. One person can have a negative impact by starting a forest fire and damaging an ecosystem or have a positive effect by contributing to the information collection process in the efforts of restoration and ensuring that you follow the laws and don't litter.

We also met our Sabbatical leader, Kirstie Jones-Williams who joined us later with the same energy and excitement. She introduced us to more research background and scientific terms that will help us support her on our mission in collecting samples in Antarctica and analysing them.

Now that the flight to Antarctica is few hours away, a mixture of emotions fills me. Happiness, excitement, fear and nervous feelings all combined. We learned that it will be very cold when we arrive and therefore got introduced to all the procedures and the gear we will be wearing with Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE). Isn’t it amazing? How people from different places around the world and entities come together and join forces for our planet? My hope is this is just the beginning of humans coming together for our planet.

- Rasha El Saleh

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