Walker Bay in the South Shetland Islands wasn’t only a seal paradise. This fairly inconspicuous beach area right below a massive glacier providing a constant flow of water is also home to Gentoo penguins (they are everywhere), moss and lichens (found in surprisingly many places across the Antarctic), and fairly green looking grounds. Especially the latter one was a clear sign of the islands more Northern location and different ecosystem compared to the Antarctic peninsula.
As I walked around in the wet snow and slushy paths after peeling my eyes off the cute seal pups, I began to see more and more colors appearing around me. Having had only blue sea, white snow and black penguins to look at for basically all of two weeks, and not really expecting anything else, it became quite enjoyable to find what else there was.
Yellow moss with tiny flowers was sprouting in a sheltered snow-free spot with water dripping into it constantly from the surrounding snow field. In the middle were several tall rocks covered in different kinds of lichen, in yellow, green and blue-ish colors. A little green plant was even growing in one of the rock’s cracks.
Some of the seal pups had been trying to nibble on some algae laying around on the beach but I only noticed then its bright red color since more of it was laying along my path to the other side of the bay. The snow was largely melted so I kept stepping through muddy brown areas on my way. Some swaths appeared orange, others made from red-ish rocks and gravel, and probably mixed with some penguin guano.
The snow was even green-colored from some dissolving moss or other plants in some places. Looking towards the other side of the bay, I could see a hill that was entirely green at its top. All that was set against the tall black and white mountains that were steeply rising right next to me, on the far side of the beach.
It was refreshing to see that colors, and hence life, can exist in inhospitable regions. Yet it was also a bright, not-to-be-missed warning sign. These islands and climate zones should be colder. There should be less color. While pretty at first sight, the appearances of colors are pivotal indicators of the global increase of temperature and changing climates, in particular across the Antarctic region.
When something is presented to us, we need to listen, ask “why”, and set out to understand more. Never be fooled by just looks.