Living the Polar Promise: Embracing Sustainable Travel

February 19, 2020

By Lyndsey Lewis
Operations + Sustainability Manager, Quark Expeditions

Protecting the waters of the Antarctic is part of Quark Expeditions' Polar Promise. Photo: Acacia Johnson

There is nowhere on Earth quite like Antarctica. In fact, it feels a little bit like being on another planet. Its silence is meditative. Its scale plays tricks with your mind. Its wildlife captures your imagination and heart. When I arrived in Antarctica in November of 2019, I found the 6th Continent was more magnificent than anything I had imagined. 

The vast landscape of Antarctica really struck me while on my standup paddleboard during an afternoon excursion. A single human being, dwarfed by the glaciers and icebergs that surrounded me. I felt small and insignificant, but also more driven than ever to safeguard this pristine Antarctic wilderness that occupies the southernmost land mass on Earth. 

Dwarfed by icebergs and glaciers. Quark Expeditions' Operations & Sustainability Manager Lyndsey Lewis. Photo: Lyndsey Lewis

Quark Expeditions' Lyndsey Lewis: Immersed in the pristine polar wilderness.  Photo: courtesy Lyndsey Lewis

There are a lot of us who are concerned about the polar regions, and if we each make a small contribution, the resulting impact can be huge. And we at Quark Expeditions are trying to do our part as well, through our Polar Promise, a sustainability framework consisting of four pillars: principles, planet, partnerships, and positive impact. 

Part of my job at Quark Expeditions is to operationalize and report on the initiatives that currently make up our Polar Promise, many of which started long before my time. Sustainability has long been part of our DNA. It was incredibly rewarding to see many of these initiatives in place during my voyage. It solidified for me that I can—we can—explore the regions and protect them at the same time. 

One of the most important ways of keeping Antarctica free of invasive species is a thorough biosecurity program. Before we arrived at the Antarctic peninsula, every guest cleaned every bag, every piece of Velcro of potential seeds and other organic matter with the help of the expedition staff. We washed our boots in the disinfectant Virkon before every shore excursion and after too. This is just one of our many commitments to IAATO, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, of which Quark Expeditions is a founding member.  (Similarly, we are also members of AECO, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators.)

As someone who's working to eliminate my personal waste at home, I was excited to see that foods that typically come in individual containers, like yogurt, butter, and jam, were served on the ship in bulk form. I noticed that straws weren't included in drinks unless specifically requested. I helped our expedition staff hand out Quark Expedition parkas to our guests, which were bundled in a group—versus individual wrapping—to reduce packaging. And, like the waste nerd that I am, I stayed behind after most guests had left to look at the type and volume of waste that we generated on our voyage. On our new ships, World Explorer and Ultramarine, this waste will be gassified by a MAGS unit, reducing its volume by 95% and producing only heat and solid carbon as by-products. 

Quark Expeditions has long supported polar science and conservation efforts in the Antarctic. Photo: Acacia Johnson

I was also really lucky to have encountered two 'hitchhiker' groups onboard. Tom and Carlos from Penguin Watch were on board to collect memory cards full of penguin colony photos, change camera batteries, and take drone footage as part of their penguin conservation program. We also hosted the small team from the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, who were on their way to Port Lockroy for the austral summer. Reducing the price of berths for members of organizations like these is another way that Quark Expeditions helps to support polar science and conservation efforts.

Observing penguin rookeries is a highlight of an expedition in the Antarctic. Photo: Acacia Johnson

I have come across no greater proponents for the polar regions that the team at Quark Expeditions, and their passion rubbed off on the guests on my voyage, including me. As part of the final recap, I gave a small talk about our Polar Promise, and another guide invited guests to make changes in their own lives to impact the planet by joining the Polar Ambassador program. I was thoroughly impressed with the number of guests who signed up for the program, and who came to talk to me afterwards about how impressed they were to hear about the positive impacts that we've had and will continue to have.

Quark Expeditions' Lyndsey Lewis with guests and members of the Expedition Team: "Sustainability has always been part of our DNA."
Photo: Michelle Sole

The sustainability strategy we’ve produced at Quark Expeditions is called Polar Promise for a very good reason. It’s our commitment. An obligation we embrace wholeheartedly. It’s part of our contract, if you will, with Mother Nature. It’s our promise—and ultimately my own promise – to do whatever I can to protect the pristine polar landscapes for generations to come. I promise to do whatever I can. I hope you will too. 

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