The Long, Cold Recycle

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, February 7, 2002 (ENS) - A path-finding independent project to help clear Antarctica of junk has overcome a final hurdle, with the unloading here of a shipment of 1,000 metric tons of scrap metal.

Three years after it began, the British based Mission Antarctica project has cleared the scrap from Russia's Bellingshausen base. It also took tons of trash out from three other stations on King George Island, off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Final negotiations with Uruguayan authorities held up unloading for several days before on February 1 the rusting remains of abandoned machinery, drums and building materials were lifted off the ship Anne Boye.

Up to 30 metric tons of oil and paint waste were not accepted. These will go to a specialist treatment plant in Europe, Mission Antarctica said.


Unloading the Antarctic scrap in Montevideo (Photo courtesy Mission Antarctica)
Antarctic cleanups have been under way for more than a decade as individual nations address piles around their bases that accumulated for years until attitudes changed.

But some countries remained too impoverished to mount a cleanup, despite the scale of their problems.

Mission Antarctica, led by British polar adventurer Robert Swan, marshalled extensive corporate help for the Bellingshausen cleanup. Backers included Merrill Lynch and the biotechnology company Serono.

Work on the project has been under way for at least three years. For the past two austral summers, mission members worked at gathering the material, cutting it up into manageable pieces and removing liquids to safe containers.

Then late last year heavy lifting equipment was shipped to Bellingshausen aboard Anne Boye. The project struck trouble when the Danish registered ship grounded in Fildes Bay. But it was refloated within 24 hours by the Argentinean tug Castillo.

Assisted by Russian national program members, Mission Antarctica volunteers then collected the waste in open top skips and lifted these onto a barge to be floated to Anne Boye, moored about one kilometer off the base.

The Bellingshausen work was completed in favorable weather ahead of schedule. In addition, around 40 tons of waste was taken from each of Chile's Frei, Uruguay's Artigas and Poland's Arctowski bases.

One of three British volunteers, environment scientist Clive Clasby, who drove the shore crane, said it was a valuable lesson in how such cleanups could be managed. "One day I hope to see part of the Antarctic that is less industrial," he said.

Buoyed by the success of the operation, Mission Antarctica plans to take its message to this year's World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa, and carry on with other cleanup work.

"We would love to cooperate with other bases and countries to help make and sustain Antarctica as the pristine wilderness she should be," said project spokesman Adrian Evans.

Published in cooperation with The Antarctican online at: