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Message in a bottle: Stuart Mackay, Digital Producer

Do not drop anything over the side of the ship. This is the golden rule. Antarctica is an incredibly pristine place; we are here to do good science and leave no trace. So, you can imagine my horror as I watched my camera start to float away. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it because this is the image from the camera the moment I realised I had made a big mistake.

I am incredibly lucky in many regards.

One, to be in Antarctica, or even to be leaving the country.

Two, that I have a very understanding partner looking after our girls at home and three, that the bosun Glen Walker is an artist with a boat hook – fishing out my camera moments before it drifted away.

It is a dream to come to Antarctica and as the photographer/videographer aboard RV Tangaroa it puts me in an amazing position to see everything that goes on. This does mean that my days are erratic, chasing midnight sunsets or working out how to film phytoplankton smaller than a hair, such as these ones below.

I am usually working across four or five video stories and a few photo assignments at once. This means the inside of my mind looks like one of those conspiracy maps with red string running everywhere. In the middle of all this string is one word in bold: SLEEP.

A morning might look like filming an interview for the mesopelagic story on the bow of the ship. Walking out of that interview to the trawl deck to shoot the ROV drone camera going over the side for a coastal benthic story. Wrapping my head around questions for an interview on carbon sequestration and then heading back to film the ROV coming up to the surface. The biggest challenge is knowing when and where to be on the ship I need to be and how I can snatch enough sleep to be able to get there.

The first moment the reality sunk in that I was heading to Antarctica came when fisheries scientist Pablo Escobar-Flores woke me up to film the transit through the ice bridge at the entrance to the Ross Sea. It was midnight and a deep beautiful blue light. The ship’s bridge is a calm, fun place but walking up the stairs it was stone quiet, and I could feel the tension. It was the first moment when ice nudged up against Tangaroa that I realised doing what we do in Antarctica is challenging.

One of the most spectacular moments of the trip so far was getting out on a workboat to film Tangaroa steaming through Terra Nova Bay. As a photographer moments don’t get much better. Bluebird day, glassy water and 10 minutes with a bosun and 2nd mate who were stoked to stretch their legs. Two shots in and my SD card corrupted. Breathe. Change SD card. Still corrupted. Panic. Five minutes later, two battery changes, a panic attack, and the camera was going again. Hopefully somewhere in the 602 images I took there is a good one.

[Ed: We think he will have succeeded]


Check out more updates from the 2021 Antarctic voyage