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Iceberg Hustlers / Geographical Magazine

The following is an extract from my feature story for the June 2022 print edition of Geographical, telling the madcap story of iceberg acquisitions. I researched and photographed this feature in Chilean Patagonia, following leads to South Africa, Iowa and the Arabian Peninusla. 

 

 

The clag is down and the icebergs loom out of the dark fjord. Our captain cuts the outboard motor and we glide silently through the grey water. The fibreglass hull grinds alongside a serrated frozen slab. It sounds like a kayak being shredded in a sawmill. ‘No pasa nada,’ he reassures us.

For the past hour, on our final approach to the San Rafael glacier, we’ve been increasingly sighting icebergs. Now, at the head of the fjord, we’re surrounded by them. In front of us, finally, is the ten-storey snout of the iceberg factory itself.

I had come to the Chilean Patagonian region of Aysén in February on the trail of the 19th-century iceberg hustlers. One hundred and seventy years ago, seamen from the port city of Valparaíso ventured 1,600 kilometres south to the relatively unexplored Patagonian territory. At the foot of this oceanic amphitheatre of ice, they lassoed their cargo and attached it to a tug. Round- up complete, they sailed out into the open sea, dragging their icebergs back up the Pacific coast for more than a month. Back at the dock, they unloaded the thousands of years old ice, which would be transported to breweries to refrigerate the city’s beer.

It sounded like the most fantastical cottage industry of modern history. I imagined piecing together a frozen- fingered, hemp-snapping, cargo-melting tale from the past. But then, as we drift ever closer to the glacier, our captain tips me off. Just ten years ago, he says, local police detained a clandestine cargo of icebergs extracted 160 kilometres south of here in Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. He pauses. A sound like an entire forest being snapped in half cracks across the water. A townhouse- sized slab dislodges from the glacier, depth-charging into the sea. The iceberg lorry, he continues, unrattled, was headed for the nation’s capital. He even knows the driver.

I sense that modern iceberg smuggling to make pisco sours for well-heeled Santiaguinos is a much better story. And it doesn’t stop there. By 2015, I discover, the contractor mentioned by the captain had formed Merchant and Exporter Patagonice Limited, a registered company dedicated to the extraction, transport and sale of icebergs. I find other companies, too, attempting to sell premium iceberg water in Chile and even to use it to make vodka in Canada. And then I hear about the modern iceberg haulers: about Abdulla Alshehi and the UAE Iceberg Project planning to bring an Antarctic iceberg twice the size of Wembley Stadium to the Gulf of Oman and the city of Fujairah.

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Global South Solutions / Geographical

Citizens of the global south have done the least to cause global climate change, but are at the greatest risk from its bad tail effects.

This August and September I had the honour of speaking to seven leaders, scientists and activists from Bolivia, Brazil, Easter Island (Chile), the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, East Timor and Indonesia.

Each of them told their own countries story of how climate change is biting, but there was an underlying theme to all the interviews I carried out. Developing nations are being called on by the global north to preserve their forests to help reduce global emissions and develop on a different pathway to the denuded and exploited landscapes of the global north. But the developed nations are not willing to foot the bill for this mitigation of their own pollution.

The 4000 word story ran in the special COP26 November issue of Geographical magazine. You can read a full online version here.

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A Park for the People / Geographical

The feature story above is from the October 2020 clandestine expedition I organised into the Río Colorado Estate and was published by Geographical magazine in their January 2021 edition. For this expedition I put together a team of mountain guides, conservationists, activists and hired a mule herder to take us for five days into a 350,000 acre wilderness area on the outskirts of Santiago. Our aim was to explore the citizen led Queremos Parque (We Want a A Park) campaign that has gained majority support in the parliament and senate to declare an accessible national park for the capital’s 7million that would potentially be the biggest conservation story in Chilean history. Along the way our team made the first ever recorded ascent of Cerro El Barco and the highest known descent of the Rio Colorado by packraft. 

Many thanks to supporting comment from Senator Alfonso de Urresti, Kristine Tompkins, James Hardcastle from the IUCN, Viviana Callahan, Tomás Gonzales and Felipe Cancino; as well as expedition logistical support from Alpacka rafts, Patagonia Chile and Fundación Plantae.

 

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Coronavirus’ real impact on the climate / Geographical

Covid-19 has forced us to reduce destructive atmospheric behaviours and has reminded us that we are at the mercy of nature.

This March I discussed with climate behavioural psychologist Paul Hoggett how the current viral crisis could affect our response and engagement as a species with the climate crisis. 

Published by Geographical, the magazine of the Royal Geographical Society.

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