Abandoned a few times, island in Antarctica welcomes tourists with… beach – 03/04/2022

62º56’S, 60º31’W
Deception Island
South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

The first known visit took place in the early 1820s, when an English brig sailed through its surroundings. The following summer, in November of the same year, the American Nathaniel Palmer, aboard a sloop (small vessel, with one or two masts), landed on this small island in the South Shetlands, in Antarctica.

Palmer was from a family of browsers. One of his sons was one of the inspirations for “Moby Dick”. The Antarctic Peninsula was once known as Palmer Land.

On that small island, he was wrong. He was surprised at its shape: he hadn’t visualized the narrow channel that opened onto a horseshoe-shaped bay. The small mistake led him to name the island Deception.

Some dictionaries even use “deception” as a possible translation for “deception”, but English teachers consider it a false cognate. Palmer may have been disappointed in the island, but what led him to name it was the illusion of the landscape, according to William James Mills in “Exploring Polar Frontiers: A Historical Encyclopedia.”

In other words, a deception that is more physical, optical, than psychological. What he thought was a coast without many indentations was, in fact, a deep bay that would turn out to be the crater of a volcano.

Deception Island - Getty Images/iStockphoto - Getty Images/iStockphoto

Deception Island

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Over these 200 years, Deception has had highs and lows, very low (I would say nil) on the scale of popularity among humans. Today, it has become, unintentionally, a “laboratory on the impact of tourism in the South Shetlands”, wrote Cláudia Collucci in “Folha”. We’re there.

Shortly after Palmer’s visit, Deception became a small seal hunting hub. In 1822, hundreds of ships took advantage of the island’s natural harbor, with little wind and little ice. But it only took a few years for the hunts to drive seals virtually extinct in the South Shetlands. In 1825, Deception was abandoned.

There were only a few expeditions to the island in the following years. But nothing very relevant.

Remains of a wooden boat in Whaler's Bay, Deception Island - Getty Images/iStockphoto - Getty Images/iStockphoto

Remains of a wooden boat in Whaler’s Bay, Deception Island

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In 1904, another exploratory industry reached those shores. Whaling already dominated South Georgia, 1,700 kilometers to the north, but in South Shetlands it had to adapt. There was no infrastructure, so dead animals had to be towed to factory ships for processing. These vessels needed fresh water and a protected anchorage, something Deception could provide.

A Norwegian-Chilean company started exploration and was followed by others. Thirteen ships operated in the bay, and hundreds of men inhabited Deception during the season.

With money flowing from the cetacean fat, a basic geopolitical question has surfaced nearly a hundred years late. Who did the island belong to?

Palmer might be an American, but the United States showed no interest. Chileans and Argentines were keeping an eye on it, until in 1908 the British declared that Deception belonged to the Falklands archipelago. So it was English.

They established postal and customs services and decided that whaling companies operating on the island must pay fees and licenses. For a while, it worked. Deception gained radio station, railroad and the largest cemetery in Antarctica.

In the 1920s, factory ships gained ramps to tow the animals, eliminating the need for moorings and, consequently, being fixed in place. The whalers then sent a banana to the British, and by 1931 there was no one left on the island. Again.

Penguins on Deception Island - Getty Images - Getty Images

Penguins on Deception Island

Image: Getty Images

Ten years later, in the context of World War II, a British warship destroyed fuel tanks and other supplies to prevent them from falling into German hands. In 1942, 40 years before the Falklands War, Argentines landed on the island and raised the sky flag there. The following year, the British withdrew it.

The disputes ended in 1959. The signing of the Antarctic Treaty established that the entire continent, or parts of it, did not belong to any specific country and that only scientific expeditions could occupy it. Any struggle for control of Deception has been made illegal.

Not that anyone wanted her at that point. In 1967, the island erupted and destroyed the scientific stations and remaining facilities. Once again, it was given over to abandonment.

For the past few decades, she has been on Antarctica cruise itineraries. There are reasons to visit it. In addition to its unusual shape, the island is home to colonies of the friendly chinstrap penguin and offers baths in thermal waters. Dig a little in the sand and you can enjoy the most eccentric beach of your life — in Antarctica!

Because of the presence of tourists in Deception, or rather in a specific area accessible to them, scientists are analyzing the impact on the environment. In soil samples, they have already found DNA from onions, grapes, invasive plants and fungi, and marijuana.

Nowhere in the world is the temperature rising as much as in Antarctica. So the presence of invasive species can accelerate the disappearance of native ones. This, in turn, could change Antarctic tourism public policies.

Deception could become a brief disillusionment of a time when the aggressive cruise industry seemed invincible. It invaded tiny Mediterranean towns and drove hordes of wealthy retirees to the ends of the earth.

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About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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