Protect the poles, protect the planet. This message is kept alive and shared by SOI alumni everywhere, including Antarctic 2014 and Arctic 2016 alumnus Robert Adragna. Robert recently founded “Our Poles. Our Planet”, an organization with a mandate to educate youth about the environment and inspire conservation. In April, Robert led the 2016 Our Poles. Our Planet Sustainability Conference, engaging over 200 students from the Greater Toronto Area in a day of activities relating to the polar regions. Speakers included Students on Ice alumni, educators, and Geoff Green himself!
Reflecting on his expedition experience, Robert says the group’s visit to Bailey Head – a penguin rookery on Deception Island – was transformative.
“Home to over half a million chinstraps, it felt as though I had entered a parallel universe where penguins rather than atoms were the building blocks of matter. Everywhere you looked these creatures dotted the landscape, and the roar of their collective squawking was the most powerful sound I have ever heard in my life.”
After expedition, Robert was awestruck by the raw power of pristine natural environments, like the Antarctic ecosystem he had just been exposed to. He returned feeling both grateful for “the existence of such beauty on planet Earth” and angry “about humanity’s decision to threaten the sustainability of Antarctica by engaging in practices that contribute to climate change”. It was a mixture of these two passionate emotions that fuelled Robert’s subsequent actions.
Robert worked tirelessly to raise awareness about polar sustainability, by writing editorials for publications such as NOW Magazine, speaking to over 600 Toronto students, and appearing on local news networks like CTV. Additionally, he collaborated with a dedicated team of fellow alumni to co-author the 2014 SOI Marine Protected Areas Ross Sea Declaration. This document is currently seeking international adoption.
Robert’s whirlwind year of environmental advocacy culminated with his Sustainability Conference on April 5, 2016. The day kicked off with a Keynote Speech my Students on Ice Founder and Executive Director, Geoff Green. He spoke about the efficacy of experiential learning when motivating youth to act on climate change. His address was followed by lectures on adventure photography by SOI’s own Lee Narraway, and Arctic botany by Paul Sokoloff.
The afternoon consisted of a series of youth seminars, which included sessions on the situation of mental health in the Arctic by alumni Gabrielle Foss (Arctic ‘15) and Eva Wu (Antarctic ‘14), and a talk by Patrick Hickey (Arctic ‘14 and Antarctic ‘14) to provide the perspective of an alumnus of expeditions from both ends of the Earth. The conference concluded with an energetic overview of the history of polar exploration by SOI educator Pete Kikkert. Robert notes, “By the day’s end, every individual present was empowered with the reverence, respect and relationships needed to lead concrete change in their individual lives.”
“Next year, you will definitely be able to find me presenting about my experiences, drafting resolutions and leading events which encourage others to make a difference.”