Locals join group for Antarctica expedition

Team members participating in the 2041foundation’s expeditions to Antarctica explore the edge of the continent and learn about the environmental impact of climate change.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Isabel Gray and her father Jonathan stood on the corner of King and Society streets armed with their musical instruments. The chilly wind was chasing some of the Second Sunday revelers inside, but the pair held firm. They are on a mission. Besides, they better get used to the cold.

The busking was part of an effort to raise the $30,000 they will need to cover the costs of an ambitious voyage to the bottom of the Earth. Isabel’s sign explained things to passersby: “I have an opportunity to travel to Antarctica to raise awareness about climate change and green energy. You can donate and learn more at 2041foundation.org. Thank You!”

Isabel, 11, will join an expedition to the globe’s southernmost continent leaving March 13 from the tip of Patagonia.

Her dad will go, too, technically as a chaperone, but Jonathan Gray said he’s long been fascinated by the natural sciences and polar exploration in particular.

“It’s great for me, I’m totally dying to go,” he said.

They are among seven from Charleston who will join about 130 others from around the world. The annual trip is organized by the 2041 Foundation, which was started by Robert Swan, a polar explorer and environmentalist determined to protect Antarctica from commercialization and to combat the effects of climate change.

Swan named his organization for the year the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty come up for debate. Also known as the Madrid Protocol, the international agreement is part of the Antarctica Treaty System, and it designates the continent “a Natural Reserve Land for Science and Peace.”

Swan is preparing for 2041, training leaders who can defend the environment and advocate for sustainable energy solutions.

The Antarctic expeditions began in 2003, according to Shayna De Silva, project manager with the 2041 Foundation. Team members are expected to return home and champion the cause of environmental protection, De Silva wrote in an email.

Swan visited Charleston late last year to talk about his organization and the opportunity to travel south. His message? Now is the time to ramp up efforts to preserve the last pristine environment on Earth — and, by extension, protect other environments.

The expedition to Antarctica will include seminars, lectures and more, all concerning renewable energy, climate change and rising sea levels.

“These are things that are going to happen in our lifetime, certainly in our children’s lifetime,” Gray said.

When Swan was here, Gray and his daughter went to hear him speak. Isabel wondered: How old do you have to be to go? “She went to talk to him, and they hit it off,” Gray said. A week later, he invited her to join the expedition.

“I’m excited to learn about what we’re actually doing,” Isabel said. She knows that she’ll be learning a lot, and that she’ll be riding on Zodiac inflatable boats from the small transport ship to the continent’s edge each day. She knows she’ll meet interesting fellow explorers from all over the world and learn about their experiences and observations. “I really hope to learn more about climate change and alternate energies so I can educate other people about it,” Isabel said.

She will be the youngest person to go on the trip.

Garrett Budds, director of conservation at the Lowcountry Land Trust, is the local team leader. He said each participant is raising money through crowd-sourcing campaigns, and old-fashioned hat-in-hand requests. Two public fundraising events are planned for this week. Others members of the Charleston expedition team include Kate and Ben Towill, Cyrus and Persis Buffum, and Katie Kerns.

“We’re not just experiencing the continent, we’re collecting the data, having real life experiences with others,” Budds said. “I think learning from each other is a big part of what they’re trying to promote through this experience — to learn how climate change impacts others. ... What can we do to build more resilient community at home that, at the end of the day, will help protect Antarctica and other places?”