“Antarctica is an innocent version of a world without humans.”
Diogo interviews Jes Gravgaard, Expedition Guide
Who are you, where did you come from, and what led you here today?
My name is Jes, but people call me Yeti.
I studied in Copenhagen to become a weather assistant before working in an Arctic weather station. I was supposed to stay for two years and ended up staying for 11! I got hooked on sledging in the winter, sailing in the summertime, and being around all the polar bears, wolves and dogs.
Then a colleague asked me if I wanted to go to Antarctica; a tourism company was looking for people with polar experience.
That was 1992. I’ve been here five seasons, and this is my 27th trip to Antarctica.
I’m drawn to remote places. I like being around people but also having space to chill out. Even though it’s not exactly relaxing here – there are many things to deal with!
I know what you mean. My body has been screaming at me to find somewhere warm. But I like that. It keeps me in the moment.
When people come here, they transition into a completely different way of living. It’s physically demanding. But it’s also a mental retreat.
You start thinking about things you’ve done – and things you could do differently. Antarctica gives me the peace to consider life on a different scale.
And right now, we’re still 3,000 kilometres from the South Pole. We’ve only been to the edge of this vast, pristine continent.
Back home, the media bombards you with so much horror. War, famine, climate change… You can easily become over-saturated or even paralysed.
Out here, I’m surrounded by like-minded people saving the environment with clear actions. It makes you realise you can make a difference.
This environment gives you a new perspective.
The animals are so innocent. You see penguins on the beach, and they don’t run away. You can walk right up to a seal, and they just look at you. It’s paradise.
Antarctica proves we can peacefully coexist with all creatures – including other humans. And we must do whatever we can to save it.
This place belongs to everybody and nobody. It’s the last part of the planet that’s completely protected and should remain that way forever. I’d like to see the Madrid Protocol extended for another 100 years, at least. We must never exploit Antarctica for minerals or oil.
You and everyone on this trip and the 2041 Foundation are the ambassadors to take this message back to the world.
Many people think fighting climate change is just about protecting the planet. But the planet will keep going long after we’re gone. This is about making sure the planet doesn’t kick us out.
Is there anything you think people should know or do to preserve this ecosystem?
Read more. Tell your friends. Go to a university or a school and give a lecture. Keep talking. That’s the best protection.
Also: eat more plant-based food.
It takes about five or six kilos of plant food to create one kilo of meat. Why waste so much space – and carbon – growing crops to feed livestock when we can eat plants directly? It doesn’t make sense. That’s why my company back home is producing and promoting plant-based food.
Do you have any interesting facts about Antarctica or its wildlife?
Here’s a good one: you can find penguin colonies by detecting algae from space.
So there’s only a few penguin species living here, including Gentoos, Adélies, and Macaronis. Gentoos number as few as 300,000 pairs, and the others are between 10 and 15 million. That sounds like a lot but they’re hard to find because Antarctica is such a big place. However, because their guano contains lots of nutrients, it provides plenty of food for red and green algae. So when you see lots of algae on the snow there’s a good chance it’s a penguin breeding ground. In fact, a new colony of two million pairs of Adélie penguins was recently discovered by analysing satellite imagery in the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula.
What does Antarctica mean to you?
It makes you realise the impact we have.
We come here as guests from the earth like we’re finding life on another planet. But we have it here.
Antarctica is an innocent version of a world without humans.