Five volunteers to study microplastics in Antarctica on Airbnb-sponsored expedition
People hike along blue-ice during an excursion to the Drake Icefall in this 2018 image provided by Airbnb. (Christopher Michel / Airbnb)
Published Tuesday, September 24, 2019 12:01AM EDT
If you’ve ever felt a burning desire to visit the coldest continent on the planet, this may be your chance: Airbnb is looking for five applicants to travel to Antarctica and assist in a unique research project as “citizen scientists.”
Airbnb has teamed up with Ocean Conservancy to create the Antarctic Sabbatical. After an extensive vetting process, five people will join environmental scientist Kirstie Jones-Williams for a one-month expedition to study whether the microplastics that saturate our oceans have made their way to Antarctica.
“Most people think of Antarctica as a pristine and isolated continent, but recent evidence shows that even the most remote locations are affected by plastic pollution,” said Jones-Williams in a press release. “This expedition will help us understand the pathways of microplastics to remote regions such as Antarctica and comes at a critical time to highlight our responsibility to protect our natural world.”
No formal experience is needed to apply to become a volunteer on the expedition. The five chosen citizen scientists will first attend immersion training in Punta Arenas, Chile, for two weeks, where they will get a crash course on glaciology, field sampling and proper lab procedures.
When they arrive on Antarctica, the volunteers will assist with collecting snow samples to be studied. The samples will be analyzed in order to see how far into the continent plastic pollution has reached.
Alongside their scientific work, the five will have the opportunity to visit landmarks on the continent such as the Drake Icefall and Elephant’s Head, and will also travel to the South Pole.
For those who love to travel to remote destinations, you can’t get much more remote than this; the frozen desert has no native human population, which makes sense considering winter temperatures there have been recorded at as low as -92 degrees Celsius, according to Jones-Williams.
Although more than 4,000 researchers and personnel can be found on the continent in the peak summer researching months -- and around 1,000 stick around in the winter -- the continent’s largest population is penguins. Twelve million of them call Antarctica home, Jones-Williams said.
This trip to Antarctica is a follow-up to another Airbnb experience: the Italian Sabbatical, where five applicants travelled to a rural town in Italy with a floundering population in the aim of helping to revitalize the area. The Airbnb sabbatical programs are designed to “inspire people to take time out of their careers to give back,” according to the Antarctica Sabbatical press release.
But applicants hoping to go to Antarctica should not be fooled by the fact that this is an Airbnb-sponsored expedition -- it's no vacation. Jones-Williams said in the press release that applicants should be prepared for hard, scientific work, emphasizing that Antarctica -- while a spectacular and rare destination -- is a harsh landscape.
“We are looking for passionate individuals, with a sense of global citizenship, who are excited to be a part of the team and to return home and share our findings with the world,” she said.
A spokesperson with Airbnb said the point of using volunteers instead of trained scientists is to allow “everyday travellers to get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in important work so that they can share it with the world.
“Most of us will never have a chance to see what environmental scientists and researchers on the frontline have already witnessed,” the spokesperson told CTVNews.ca over email. “While there are only five spots, (the citizen scientists) represent the global community that strives to live their daily life more responsibly.”
It doesn’t end in Antarctica. Before the month is up, the five participants will be returning to Chile. There, they will finish off the experience by doing further study and working with Ocean Conservancy to develop into ambassadors for the protection of the ocean.
Janis Searles, CEO of Ocean Conservancy, said in the press release that partnering with Airbnb on this venture made sense to them, because volunteer scientists are the backbone of their International Coastal Cleanup, where items are not just collected from beaches around the globe, but are logged into a database.
“Ocean Conservancy has a long history of working with citizen scientists, and we look forward to applying the results of this expedition to global solutions,” Searles said.
Applications for the Antarctica Sabbatical open on Tuesday, and will be open until Oct. 8. The citizen scientists will be picked in late October, and the expedition itself will start in November and end in December.