Lindblad Expeditions and its partner National Geographic Society enthusiastically support Oceanites, Inc., a nonprofit, science and educational foundation established in the United States by Ron Naveen in 1987. The name of the organization – Oceanites – is taken from the scientific genus name for a group of oceanic birds called storm-petrels, which includes the famous Wilson’s storm-petrel, a species that breeds in Antarctica during the short Austral Summer and then wanders northward to all of the world’s oceans.
The main scientific project of Oceanites is its Antarctic Site Inventory, which began collecting and compiling baseline biological and physical data and descriptive information in November 1994 with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs. Today, this important project is primarily sustained by public support and grants from private foundations, and frequently has been augmented by support from Antarctic Treaty governments and agencies — including the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Marine Mammal Commission, and the German Federal Environment Agency.
The organization’s goal is to foster conservation of the world’s oceans, islands, and their wildlife, as well as help to create a better appreciation of the sensitive connections we humans have to our watery globe. The biological data and site descriptions collected by the Antarctic Site Inventory scientists are published regularly in peer-reviewed papers and government reports, as well as various popular publications, including the Compendium of Antarctic Peninsula Visitor Sites, 2d edition: A Report to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (2003).
Oceanites routinely makes the valuable data and information readily available to governmental, scientific, environmental, and public communities, helping to ensure that all interested parties have access to relevant and requisite facts, figures, statistics, and analyses. Oceanites also produced the invaluable tourist guidebook The Oceanites Site Guide to the Antarctic Peninsula, by Ron Naveen.
Since 1994, Oceanites scientists have made nearly 700 visits to approximately 100 sites (mostly bird rookeries) in the Antarctic Peninsula in order to conduct animal population studies. Logistics are provided primarily by the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER and the United Kingdom ice patrol vessel HMS Endurance. This has included repetitive visits to all of the most heavily visited sites in the peninsular region. In addition, Oceanites scientists working with the Antarctic Site Inventory began a focused assessment and long-term monitoring program at Petermann Island (65°10’S, 64°10’) in November 2003. This site was chosen because it is a highly visited peninsular location that is diverse in species composition and sensitive to potential environmental disruptions from visitors. The study is ongoing.
These data have chronicled the important the population dynamics of animals that may be affected by both human presence and climate changes. No other scientific organization or study has been able collect such broad-based and comprehensive long-term observations.
Three categories of data and information are collected at each site:
1). Basic Site Information. This includes descriptions of key physical and topographical characteristics, latitude and longitude, distribution of flora, seal haul-out and wallow locations, and discrete groups of breeding penguins and/or flying birds.
2). Variable Site Information and Data. This includes weather and other environmental conditions (sea ice extent, cloud cover, snow cover, temperature, wind direction and speed), biological variables (number of occupied nests, number of chicks per occupied nest, ages of chicks), and the nature and extent of any observed visitor impacts (footprints or paths, cigarette butts, film canisters, and litter).
3). Maps and Photodocumentation. This portrays the major features of each site, particularly the locations of colonies and assemblages of resident fauna and flora.
The Inventory has successfully demonstrated that opportunistic visits can be used to detect possible visitor-caused changes in the physical features, flora, and fauna of sites in the Antarctic Peninsula that are being visited repeatedly. The baseline information has made it possible to detect possible changes in the physical and biological variables being monitored. Hopefully, this information can help to determine how best to minimize or avoid possible environmental impacts of tourism and non-governmental activities in the Antarctic Peninsula area.
The most important environmental concern of Oceanites is to identify changes to the baseline reference states and determine whether any detected changes are naturally occurring or anthropogenic (caused by human activities). Data collected by the Antarctic Site Inventory are used in the implementation of the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. The protocol requires, among other things, a priori environmental impact assessments for all human activities and monitoring, when necessary, to assess and verify predicted environmental impacts.
In 2006, Oceanites started a long-term, multi-language educational section onits website to disseminate the results of data and ongoing efforts internationally. This will get the compiled information out to as wide an audience as possible. There are plans for a future unique educational multi-language component to the website that will be a virtual classroom that allows interested adults and children to “plug into” a wealth of presentations, videos, and downloadable materials about key subjects. It is hoped that this website will lead to more informed discussions by all of us, our friends, and those we meet, as well as more enlightened and better reasoned conservation decisions by our leaders.
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