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MEM, NUS on the International Antarctic Expedition 2015/ 2016

Three Environmental Management post-graduate students at NUS went on an exploratory mission to Antarctica led by Sir Robert Swan. One of the explorers - Prerna Shah, who is also a Gaia Discovery writer - shares their unique experiences on this life-altering journey to the southernmost continent. 

The spectacular blue and white Antarctic landscape (Picture Credits: Prerna Shah)Singapore, 10 November 2016. In 2015, the Master of Science in Environmental Management (MEM) programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS) acquired a befitting ally in its bid to nurture young, qualified and enthusiastic environmentalists and sustainability professionals – the Global Green Economic Consulting Pte. Ltd. (GGEC) – an organization that helps businesses find ‘gold’ in ‘green’ agreed to sponsor students from the current and future cohort for the International Antarctic Expedition (IAE).

2041 is a pivotal year for Antarctica as it is the year when the international treaty to keep Antarctica untouched will end. The IAE, a brainchild of Sir Robert Swan, is a global youth leadership programme that seeks to protect Antarctica and inspire the next generation to take responsibility for a sustainable world. Mr. Chee Wee Tan and Ms. Quang Nu Tuong Nhan were generously sponsored by GGEC while Ms. Prerna Shah raised funds for this incredible, life-altering journey to the southernmost continent.

Humpback whale saying hello! (Picture Credits: Phil Wickens)Rightly described as the journey of many first’s, from sighting humpback whales to taking a plunge into the freezing Antarctic waters, the students were enamored beyond words.

“I felt intimidated and overwhelmed by the vast Antarctic landscape. It reminded me that no matter how advanced we as a species become, we are still only one small part of the great system.  As all parts are interrelated to each other, our actions have consequences beyond our own defined boundary and we need to be mindful of that fact”, said Ms. Nhan.

She described the Antarctic wildlife as ‘extremely approachable’ and said that her intimate moments with penguins, seals and whales have built up a strong desire to protect the place and ensure the continued survival of these innocent beings.

Huge chunks of ice sheets falling into the Antarctic sea. (Picture Credits: Phil Wickens)On their journey, the students encountered a gigantic tabular iceberg, the size of more than 20 football fields combined that broke off the west Antarctic ice shelves. Floating unrestricted, its waters were melting into the Antarctic sea, contributing to the rise in global sea levels.

Recollecting the defining moment, Mr. Tan said, “It had always been theoretically explained in classes, but standing on the deck, staring at the inconvenient truth, brought it to a whole new level. That is the same truth that we often overlook because of our hectic lifestyle, remembering it occasionally during days of uncomfortable weather. A chilling thought ran across my mind - the days of beautiful seashores may not last beyond another generation!”

Ms. Shah equates her Antarctica experience to the glacier melt happening in the Himalayas, from where she hails. “Back in my country, I had seen topographies change due to alarming glacier melt, species vanish in a span of a few years and disasters happen with immense fury. A similar fate is discernible in this remote land too. These are places with zero carbon footprint still they are bearing the consequences of Climate Change. So ultimately it is only global action that is a solution to this problem– whether in national policy, business models or future technology options – the switch has to made now.”

Prerna Shah (left) and Chee Wee Tan, first from NUS, MEM to embark on a journey to Antarctica. (Picture Credits: Chee Wee Tan)Post the expedition, the students feel convinced of their responsibility to react strongly and inspire young people and future leaders to find a unique conviction for the same cause. Mr Tan believes, “Only when the vast majority believes they each have a part to play, would we stand a chance for an improved sustainability outcome.” The students in their various capacities have shared their experiences at business forums, with colleagues and clients, academic institutions, environmental NGOs, scouts movement and anyone who is interested to know about the last pristine place on Earth.

Fur seals and Gentoo penguins basking in the sun. (Picture Credits: Ashish Saxena)Despite the challenges of climate change forces, the students are positive and hopeful. “Hope comes from Antarctica herself”, says Ms. Nhan. “In early 19th century, hundred thousands of whales were killed at Whaler’s Bay in Antarctica for whale oils used for lighting. With electricity invention, the whole whaling industry vanished. Today wildlife has recovered. Nature is perseverant and resilient.  It is never too late to take action. The story is symbolic for human capability to innovate and to make pervasive changes. If the electricity can replace whale oil, then why can’t renewable energy replace oil?”

Ms. Shah goes on emphasize the importance of collective experiences and engagements with the wild. “Today spending time in nature is considered a pastime – something we do on weekends, or during our holidays. An indulgence, a way to relax and regenerate. It’s not considered an intrinsic part of our lives. Children need to engage with the wild, experience it so that they know why it is important – and love it! They will only preserve something that they love!”

The surreal Antarctic sunrise. (Picture Credits: Oli Wheeldon)For the future, the Global Green Economic Consulting Pte Ltd (GGEC) has committed to sponsor at least one MEM student each year on the same or an equivalent international trip for the next three years. The expedition has advanced the knowledge obtained by the students from the MEM programme by providing them with first-hand evidence of many of the aspects covered on the programme such as climate change and loss of biodiversity. It is hoped that this unique opportunity will inspire many more young leaders and propel them towards sustainable living choices in future. 




"Sailing over frigid waters through sheets of broken ice, I realized what a mere speck I was on this limitless canvas of blue and white; we think we can exploit, eliminate and divide but only a thin strand we are in this web of life, an end of one is the end of all, much sooner than we may realize." By Prerna Shah (Team Member, IAE 2015 and MEM Alumni).

About the MEM Programme

The Master of Science (Environmental Management) (MEM) programme is a multi-disciplinary integrated programme which provides education in environmental management for senior and mid-level managers and officers in corporations, institutions, and government and non-governmental organizations, both in Singapore and in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. It is is mounted jointly by nine faculties and schools in the National University of Singapore (NUS), demonstrating its broad-based approach to education in the field of the environment.

Candidates on the programme benefit directly from its links with overseas universities which are well established in the field of environmental management, particularly the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, USA and the Nicholas School for the Environmental and Earth Sciences at Duke University, USA. For more information, click here.

About GGEC

GGEC (Global Green Economic Consulting) was founded in 2012 with a focus of providing disruptive business and brand advisory services to companies in Asia. Its subsidiary, GGEF (Global Green Economic Forum), is one of its kind business conference that operates as a social enterprise in the region. GGEC provides a holistic approach to promote sustainability in business and help enterprises to find ‘gold’ in ‘green’. For more information, click here.

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