North meets South: UAE polar explorers unite to mark Antarctica Day

Adventurers share concerns over the far-reaching effects of climate change

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A group of intrepid Emirati explorers are poles apart no more after coming together to discuss their epic adventures and highlight the threat of climate change to even the most remote regions of the world.

The UAE Polar Network consists of 35 UAE citizens – 19 men and 16 women – who have visited either or both the North and South Pole.

Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) invited them to a special event at Expo 2020 Dubai to mark Antarctica Day on Wednesday.

The annual occasion celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959 to protect the continent.

The event – Zayed's Lights – heard from several explorers who have set foot in the the Arctic, where the North Pole is found, and Antarctica, site of the South Pole.

Members of the network include Ameera Al Marzooqi, 29, the first female Emirati to visit the heart of Antarctica.

She has visited the continent twice, the most recent in 2016, when she accompanied Sir Robert Swan, who was the first person in history to walk to both the North and South Poles, to visit Union Glacier and test renewable technology, including solar lights.

The chilling effect of climate change

She said she saw the effects of climate change first hand during her trips, including plastic litter.

Ms Al Marzooqi plans to return to Antarctica in March with Sir Robert to film a documentary and raise awareness about the environmental issues facing the continent. She said she is currently seeking a film crew to join her.

“We saw plastic in Antarctica, and in the Arctic as well. It just shows how huge a problem plastic waste is. It’s everywhere,” she said.

“We need immediate action. People don’t realise how important protecting Antarctica is. It will affect us all, the melting of the Antarctic, the ice will raise the sea water level and affect us all.”

EAD hosted its own expedition to the continent in 2018, when Team Zayed lit up the Antarctic sky with 100 solar lights. It later released a documentary based on the two-week trip.

“People say the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi mandate is Abu Dhabi only,” said Ahmed Al Hashmi, acting executive director of biodiversity at EAD.

“However, we always say that EAD impact is not only at the local, national or regional. It is also international. We believe that environmental issues are shared by everyone. There is no border between countries, physically. We share the same land, water and air.”

He said EAD delegations have also visited the North Pole.

“And we send them with environmental messages. So when we participate in Antarctica, we send our people to get more from the international group that participated during that mission and to focus on main issues, climate change and global warming. The impact is clearly there,” Mr Al Hashmi said.

“When they came back they delivered this message to the public.”

Sharing experiences

Winston Cowie, marine policy manager at EAD, said the idea was to bring all UAE explorers who had visited the poles together to mark Antarctica Day.

“We did a bit of research and we found there are about 35 people who have been to these far-off places and done some incredible things, from environmental remediation work to electrical engineering, to setting up solar panels at a research base, some really cool stuff.

“So for Antarctica Day we wanted to bring everyone together who has been there and hold an event at Expo and send another message to the world to shine a spotlight on climate change, particularly with Cop28 coming up.”

About half the members of the UAE Polar Network attended the event, including delegations who visited the continent in the 1990s.

Updated: December 01, 2021, 3:17 PM