Academic journal article Critical Arts

Consuming Nature: Antarctica, Penguins and Pollution

Academic journal article Critical Arts

Consuming Nature: Antarctica, Penguins and Pollution

Article excerpt


Non-smokers' responses towards smokers on an Antarctic cruise provide the narrative thread against which broader environmental issues and passenger behaviour are debated. The study, conducted over a two-week period in 2009, applies auto-ethnography in examining contradictory tourist and crew behaviour with regard to the ship's internal and external environments. The ways in which designated smoking areas functioned to exclude the majority of passengers from common spaces, is examined. Simultaneously, the narrative takes the reader on a journey of how the study of responses to smoking gained in momentum as it began to address much broader issues of environmental degradation, environmental law and sustainable tourism.

Keywords: Antarctica, auto-ethnography, environmental impact, smoking, tourism


My story is about travel, pollution and struggle. The struggle concerned attempts by a group of non-smoking passengers on the Marco Polo liner to secure for themselves relatively unpolluted spaces during their voyage to the Antarctic in January 2009. Marco Polo, the man, offers the metaphorical backdrop to the analysis which addresses the following questions:

1. Why do tourists looking for Eden despoil their own habitat?

2. How is this Antarctic Eden imaged?

3. Whose interests did the ship's smoking policy serve?

4. What is the relationship between consuming nature and consumption?

Marco Polo: a metaphor of our journey

Marco Polo, a Venetian explorer, was a legend in his own lifetime. Born in 1254, he began his travels at the age of 17 with his father and uncle (Edwards 2001a). The Polos embarked on an odyssey through the 'Silk Road' between the East and West (Brotton 2003: 1). He opened trade between Europe and the East, and once spent 24 years on a single exploration (Edwards 2001a). The Polos' adventures spanned China, Iran, Japan, Afghanistan, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Persian Gulf region. He was the first to write of these unexplored places in his book, Description of the worm (Edwards 2001b). Many, however, remain sceptical of his descriptions, alleging exaggeration or romanticisation (Edwards 2001a). Nevertheless, the immense knowledge Marco acquired through his adventures was eventually used by the West to develop maps of the East (Edwards 2001b). These journeys exerted immense impact on European culture, having hybridised Western with Eastern influences (Brotton 2003: 1). (1) Marco thus remains a legend some 800 years later. The liner of the same name, once owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines, symbolises this traveller--someone who is associated with exploration, knowledge and learning.

The Marco Polo started life as a Russian supply ship, baptised Alexandr Pushkin, sailing the Baltic before being lengthened and refitted as a passenger ship. In 1991 the ship was sold by the Far Eastern Shipping Co. of Vladivostok to the British-based Shipping & General Ltd. In 2009 the ship sailed under the banner of Transocean Tours, a German cruise operator, which bought it from Orient Lines in March 2008 ( 2008).

My son, Damien, and I were passengers on the ship in the Arctic Circle in January 2009, when Shackleton's descendants reached the pole 97 years after he had failed, after 497 days on the ice between 1914 and 1917. In 2009, Henry Worsley, Will Gow and Henry Adams hauled sledges 900 kilometres over the ice in average temperatures of-52[degrees] (Matrix Shackleton Centenary Expedition 2009). In contrast, the other Marco Polo passengers and I were living a luxurious life onboard, where a freezing winter (or summer) on the ice was not on the itinerary. I wondered whether Worsley et al. had stocked up on clothing offered by the Shackleton retail boutique in Santiago, advertised in the in-flight magazine, in/Eero, that I had read en route.

We were surrounded by whales, penguins, seals, fish, copepods, sea birds and krill, a key species in the food chain. …

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