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Living in Antarctica
King George Island, a cosmopolitan place
Waldemar Cono Fontes Reyes (antawa)     Print Article 
Published 2007-09-06 11:03 (KST)   
When looking for the phrase "Living in Antarctica" in Internet, you can find a lot of Web sites describing how the people live in the south pole U.S. station and about the Australian or New Zealand bases in the Oceania quadrant of the Antarctica map.

Just few times you can read a reference in English about the people living in the American quadrant of the Antarctica, one of the most geopolitically strategic regions in the southern hemisphere.

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Antarctica is an entire continent of almost 14 million square kilometers and many nations are deploying research and logistical stations in the strategic places of Antarctica.

Today we would like to write about how is the life in the area of the Antarctic Peninsula, the closest place to the South America continent and one the most visited areas of the white continent.

The Antarctic Peninsula is bordered by the South Shetland, an archipelago of volcanic islands which provided shelter to the whaling fleet that operated in the region during the 19th century and early the 20th.

The South Pole regions are totally hostile for the human been and there are no native people there. Those fishermen were the first inhabitants in Antarctica, installing factories and small villages.

Till the early 1930s the oil whale exploitation was so rentable, but when the fossil oil replaced the whale oil as fuel, the industry declined.

For some period it was no so big interest in to live in Antarctica, but after World War 2 it started a kind of race to install permanent bases.

Argentina was a pioneer on that and they feel proud of to keep the oldest permanent station, working all the year, since 1904: the Orcadas Base.

In the 1950s the Chileans also started to colonize Antarctica installing meteorological stations and small camps in many areas in a race against Argentina, because both countries claimed sovereignty in the region.

The same area it also claimed by the United Kingdom, and many British facilities built in those years still exists.

In 1968, the former USSR installed a big supply station in the Fildes Peninsula, a summer free of ice place, in the King George Island.

This station had the possibility to store more than 3 million liters of fuel to resupply the soviet fishing fleet and maybe the navy vessels and submarines navigating the South Atlantic Sea in the Cold War times.

This soviet station, called Bellinghausen to honor the 18th century Antarctic explorer Fabien Von Bellinghausen still exists and now the compounds are mixed with Chilean facilities of President Frei Base.

These two stations together, the Russian and the Chilean are making one of the biggest populated centers in Antarctica.

This concentration means in summer a permanent population of about 200 to 250 people, including Chilean families with children and school.

In winter this population decreases considerably, keeping in an average of 100.

Besides this two stations running together, there are in the area some more facilities including the Chinese Station "Great Wall," four kilometers away. The Uruguayan Station "Artigas," five kilometers to the East and the South Korean Station "King Sejong" at the other side of the bay.

These five stations operate together in a cooperative basis for logistic purposes and also for scientific research projects.

The Chilean station has a field aerodrome capable for C-130 airplanes and others, which it is used for support the near stations and also to receive tourists.

The location of all these stations in the King George Island it is no casual.

The Chilean aerodrome and the protected harbor of King George Island becomes the Fildes Peninsula in a natural gate to arrive in Antarctica or to make a scale before to move forward to the south.

According the IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) more than 25,000 persons are visiting Antarctica during every summer in the lasts years and the number is increasing.

These tourists arrive in the Antarctica Peninsula by cruises, by plane or even sailing and many of them visit the permanent stations in the area.

The Fildes Peninsula at King George Island has become in a cosmopolitan place and the station crews living there have the opportunity to share very different styles of life visiting the neighbor bases, organizing sportive competences or receiving foreign visitors.

The possibility to be visited by tourists influence so much in the daily life, and it is another component of the multicultural environment of this place.

The particularly of life in the King George Island is confraternity developed by all the crew members of each station.

The spirit of the Antarctic Treaty is that the white continent is a place of no nationalities, dedicated to the peace and science.

All the countries claiming territories, accepted to freeze their reclaims in favor of the peace in the area, according the Treaty signed in 1959.

The Antarctica is the only place in the world where the military are working without weapons in a very close relationship even from countries confronted by political matters in other areas.

This experience gives the people living there the opportunity to know better how the persons from different cultures are.

If this knowledge is transported to their normal life when they come back home, that could act as a buster of good will, tending to improve the relationship of the people in other parts of the world.

Living in Antarctica is always a challenge. It is an opportunity to meet with yourself, to be in contact with nature and to discover new experiences, but by mainly it is an opportunity to learn how to live in peace for the future of humanity.
Orcadas Base
Villa Las Estrellas
Artigas Base
International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators
King George Island

Waldemar Fontes is the base commander at Artigas scientific base on King George Island.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Waldemar Cono Fontes Reyes

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