They will not have flush toilets or running water. And their black and white “colleagues” will look pretty stinky. But four lucky women from the UK will have the experience of a lifetime running Antarctica’s Penguin Post Office this winter.
The women – Clare Ballantyne, Mairi Hilton, Natalie Corbett and Lucy Bruzzone – will spend November to March running the Port Lockroy post office, museum and gift shop, a gig that also involves keeping an eye on a settlement of 1,500 gentoo penguins.
They will be thousands of miles from the comforts of home, showering only on visiting ships, using a bucket as a toilet and sleeping in bunk beds. With limited internet access, their primary method of communicating with the outside world will be through the mail.
Nevertheless, the women say they are eager to begin their new duties on Goudier Island, located off the coast of the seventh continent.
Clare Ballantyne, 23, from Lincolnshire, England, who will serve as postmaster of Port Lockroy, is very much looking forward to “soaking up the cacophony and pungent smell of penguins, web background of glaciers and mountains Fief and to be able to call [Goudier Island] home for the next few months,” she said in a statement, as reported by CBS News’ Caitlin O’Kane.
In her new position, Ballantyne will be responsible for sending around 70,000 pieces of mail to more than 100 countries from the world’s southernmost post office. She recently completed a Masters in Earth Science at Oxford University.
His colleague, Lucy Bruzzone, has secured the coveted position of base manager, a position that includes coordinating ship visits, working with expedition leaders and managing the Port Lockroy team. Bruzzone, 40, has lived in the Arctic after spending three months exploring Svalbard, a Norwegian-ruled archipelago not far from the North Pole. She has also worked as a program director at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.
With a background in retail and entrepreneurship, Natalie Corbett, 31, will run the site’s gift shop. She got married in June, so she plans to treat the five-month job like a solo honeymoon. Mairi Hilton, meanwhile, will serve as wildlife monitor, a job that involves counting the island’s penguin population and checking for bird nests and hatchlings. Hilton, 30, from Bo’ness, Scotland, recently completed a PhD in conservation biology and has been on several research expeditions.
The British established Port Lockroy in 1944 as part of a top secret World War II mission known as Operation Tabarin. Today, the historic site welcomes around 18,000 annual visitors and tourists, who arrive on cruise ships run by operators such as Hurtigruten, Oceanwide Expeditions and Ponant.
Despite the difficult working conditions, more than 6,000 people expressed interest in jobs advertised by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) in April, according to the BBC. This is more than double the number of applicants from previous years.
The trust has recruited for the posts almost every year since 2006, when it took over the isolated post office from the British Antarctic Survey. But the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the organization to close the remote outpost for the past two-and-a-half years, which may explain the sudden surge in interest.
After sifting through thousands of applications, trust staff members interviewed qualified candidates on Zoom. Then they narrowed down their selection to 12 people and gathered the potential new recruits for a day of interviews, tests, activities and presentations.
The trust had no intention of choosing four women for the positions, it just worked out that way. They were looking for people who could succeed in each role, as well as handle the harsh living and working conditions of Antarctica, according to the New York Times‘ Saskia Solomon.
Now, the four women are preparing for remote first aid and penguin behavior training. But they won’t be flying totally solo when they finally reach Antarctica: Vicky Inglis, who previously worked on the island, will join them for 10 weeks to help them acclimatize.
One of the most rewarding parts of the experience for Inglis was immersing himself in his surroundings and noticing “little details and changes” in everything from the weather to the way the ice moves to the amount of light the island receives, she told WNYC’s “The Takeaway” earlier this year.
“You’re very in tune with everything that’s going on around you,” Inglis said.