Emiratis are 'inspired' after Antarctica voyage

A group of Emiratis have returned from their expedition armed with an urge to spread awareness about the impact of climate change.

March 22, 2011 (Abu Dhabi) Ali al Shamsi, left, and Taryam al Subaihi, both employees with Etihad Airways participated in an international expedition to Antarctica where they spent two weeks exploring the continent. (Sammy Dallal / The National)

DUBAI //Five Emiratis have returned from a voyage to Antarctica as "environmental converts" and now plan to share their insights into climate change with their compatriots.

The group was part of an expedition organised by the veteran polar explorer Robert Swan.

During the 14-day journey, they witnessed melting ice caps, islands populated by penguins and a sprawling desert of ice. The trip was designed to forge a group of environmental ambassadors who would learn in-depth about climate change and pass on the message to their home countries.

Sixty-six people took part from nations including China, India, the UK, the US, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Egypt.

The UAE participants, who were selected for their leadership skills, landed in Ushuaia, Argentina, last Friday and arrived back in the Emirates the following Monday.

Taryam al Subaihi, a corporate communications adviser for Etihad Airways, was part of the UAE delegation.

"Throughout the trip, we've been discussing what's the best approach when we get home," Mr al Subaihi said. "We want to start first by making some changes within our families, and then we will start promoting the issue to the public."

The group has already discussed a countrywide speaking tour, where they can spread what they learnt by appearing in front of students at universities and colleges.

"We are all aware of climate change in a general way, but when you are presented with the actual specific numbers and statistics, it can be eye-opening," he said. "I guess you could call me an environmental convert. Everyone will follow that path though, if they know the facts."

Robert Swan, the leader of the expedition and the first man to walk to the North and South Poles, said that the UAE team "really connected" with the Antarctic.

"For them it was like moving from one desert to another," he said. "They were able to stand back and review their own leadership skills and learn from this place. Most importantly, they were able to see how to move sustainability forward in their companies.

"We have made a great step in linking to the UAE with not just words but people. We now need to build on that inspiration and make it sustainable."

On-board the ship during the journey, the group was given a series of detailed presentations from environmental experts on the effects of climate change, a schedule Mr al Subaihi admitted was quite "full-on".

One of the most affecting experiences came when the crew was roused at 6.30am and brought up on deck. All around them were ice caps, which had been diminished by a rise in temperatures.

"To see the change right there in front of you is a shock," he said.

Throughout the experience, the Emirati crew forged deep ties with the other delegates, and hope to work with them via social networking to further spread the environmental message.

"We are planning to use Facebook to keep in contact," said Mr al Subaihi. "Everyone is going to share their process of changing things in their home countries. Whatever any of us does, we'll know about it and be able to use that as an example for each other."

The first Emirati to go on Mr Swan's expedition last year was Sheikh Abdulaziz al Nuaimi, often referred to as the "Green Sheikh". He said that since his visit he had been more active in promoting environmental causes.

"I felt I suddenly had more enthusiasm and energy in promoting the cause," he said. "I would like to see at least two or three Emiratis going to Antarctica every year, in order to keep up the momentum and increase environmental awareness."