National Geographic : 2001 Dec
T he interior may be a sterile void, yet the frigid waters that strrlound the continent are amlltng the world's richest and most biologically diverse. young krill. What we are seeing here is the first evidence of how a shift in climate may have a surprisingly quick and dramatic impact." I left Cape Shirreff aboard the Golden Fleece, a 65-foot yacht skippered by J6r6me Poncet, a Frenchman who has explored these waters for 30 years and co-authored several scientific papers on the peninsula's wildlife and grasses. It was late in the evening two days later when we sailed into Maxwell Bay, a picture-postcard anchorage surrounded by glaciers and moun tains on the southern tip of King George Island. The lights of scattered bases twinkling along the shore coupled with the blues CD throbbing softly in the wheelhouse gave the bay an appropriately cosmopolitan feel. King George Island is Antarctica's Manhat tan, a melting pot where Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Poland, Russia, South Korea, and Uruguay all maintain year-round bases. Other nations, including the U.S., Ecuador, ALLPHOTOGRAPHSOFWEDDELLSEALSBYMARIASTENZEL,WITHASSISTANCEFROM DONALDSINIFF'SNATIONALSCIENCEFOUNDATIONPROJECT#BO-009 -0 Peru, Germany, Netherlands, and the Czech Republic, operate summer camps here as well. There is a reason this 500-square-mile island is the trendiest real estate in Antarctica, but it has less to do with science than with location. King George Island lies only 600 miles from South America and has a 4,400-foot airstrip to provide quick access. Under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty only nations conducting scientific research in Antarctica have a voice in shaping the continent's future. Setting up a base on King George Island is the simplest way to get that voice. "We had little experience in Antarctica until we came here in 1988," said Soon-Keun Chang, the commanding officer at South Korea's King Sejong Station. "We considered putting a sta tion on the continent itself, but we realized that would have been much too difficult and expen sive to start off with. This seemed like a good place to learn our way around."