Destination: Antarctica

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2007, 12:00am

The first group of Hong Kong and mainland students to set foot on Antarctica have vowed to raise awareness of global warming among young people.

Since returning from their 15-day trip last month, the five students have shared their experiences with other teenagers.

They have also provided concrete evidence that global warming has affected the last wilderness in the world.

Choco Li Hau-leung, a student at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), saw a glacier collapse as the group was sailing to the world's fifth-largest continent.

'I heard a loud noise and didn't know where it came from. Then I saw a huge glacier break up. It was an astonishing sight. I thought it was the roar of Mother Nature,' said Mr Li, a politics and public administration student.

'When we arrived on King George Island - the most northern part of Antarctica - we saw yellow soil instead of ice. The ice had melted.'

Led by environmentalist Robert Swan, the students were among 60 people who took part in the international programme Inspire Antarctic Expedition 5. They were the youngest in the group.

'This year, the theme of the programme was leadership so most people in the team were professionals, like managers, journalists and business executives,' Mr Li said.

The group's toughest challenge was the two-day voyage through Drake Passage, a narrow strip between Ushuaia - the southern tip of Argentina - and northern Antarctica. The sea can be very rough, and 10-metre waves are common.

'The voyage was very difficult. Sometimes we fell down while having a meal,' Mr Li said.

Tang Chin-cheung, who studies environmental life science at HKU, said he had to lie in bed throughout the journey.

'I couldn't stand up,' he said.

But the students did not mind the challenging voyage, because once they set foot on Antarctica, they were overwhelmed by its breathtaking scenery and biodiversity. Sea lions, seals and penguins were everywhere, they said.

'The blue colour of Antarctica is unique and there's is no place in the world that's as beautiful,' said Wilson Cheung Wai-yin, a student from the physical education department at Hong Kong Baptist University.

For Mr Tang, getting close to Antarctica's penguins was an unforgettable experience.

'In Hong Kong, you can't get close to wild animals,' he said.

The students helped set up the Educational Base on King George Island, the first of its kind in Antarctica. It is powered by renewable energy and built from recycled material.

The students even took a dip in the sea.

'At first I didn't want to,'

Mr Li said. 'But the others were jumping into the water. I thought this might be the only opportunity in my life to take a dip in Antarctica, so I joined the fun.'

Mr Li has conducted a series of talks in schools. He is working on a project together with Mr Tang to raise awareness of global warming among youth. The project includes an exhibition.

Mr Cheung, who has visited schools and youth organisations since returning from Antarctica, is more ambitious.

'I'm planning to write a book about the trip to reach a wider audience,' he said.