Anvers Island

The western side of the Gerlache Strait.
Palmer can only be visited with a pre-issued permit but few turn down proffered permits.
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Why Visit?

The sheltered coasts of Anvers Island are reliably good locations to find marine wildlife, and the tallest mountain in the peninsula, Mt Francais, (2,822 metres or 9,259 feet) is visible from many directions in good weather.

Where is it?

Off the Danco Coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. It makes up the western side of the southern Gerlache Strait.

Challenges?

Lots of sheer glaciated cliffs and few landing sites. Can be very exposed to incoming Southern ocean weather.

Wildlife

The Gerlache and Neumayer Straits to the east and Dallmann Bay to the north are renowned for marine mammal activity in the later half of the season.

Geography

It can be difficult at times to distinguish the mainland Peninsula from the large offshore islands of the Palmer Archipelago. In this world of black basalt and white glaciers, sometimes only charts reveal the difference. This is particularly true of Anvers Island, one of the largest islands, north of the Antarctic Circle on the western side of the Peninsula. The island, measuring about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from north to south, and separated from the Danco Coast by the Gerlache Strait, was named by de Gerlache in 1898, after a province in Belgium.

Human activities

Anvers Island was discovered in 1832 by John Biscoe as part of his explorations for the whaling company Enderby & Sons, and later explored more fully by de Gerlache in 1898, during the Belgica Expedition; Palmer Station is located on the Southern coast of Anvers Island

Britain named Arthur Harbour in 1955 after Oswald Arthur, governor of the Falkland Islands. “Station N,” a small British base there, was occupied from February 1955 until 1958, and again from 1969 to 1973, when it was used for air operations until the runway deteriorated. The runway has been used intermittently since—a BAS Twin Otter landed here in 2001. The British building was leant to nearby Palmer station in 1963, and was used as a laboratory. However, fire destroyed it during repairs in 1971, and the United States removed the remains in 1991.

Palmer Station

The United States Antarctic Program consists of several bases and ships. Palmer station and the icebreaker, Nathaniel B Palmer, take their names from the young New England skipper of the Hero, who was one of the earliest explorers to reach this region of Antarctica.

Palmer station is situated on southwest Anvers Island on the shores of Arthur Harbor.

Palmer station began as a single hut in 1964 and expanded the following year. The current station, with its linking walkways above the snow level, was built in 1968, and was recently expanded and renovated. It is quite small with just two main buildings and a population that ranges from 10 in winter to a maximum of 43 in summer. Many visitors to Antarctica are United States citizens, and Palmer is a very popular destination—so popular, in fact, that the base has had to initiate a roster system, and applications to visit are lodged months in advance. Tourists are shown a well-run operation doing useful research, and a fascinating aquarium of Antarctic marine life. Palmer also has the best souvenir shop in Antarctica.

Since 1990, Palmer has been the center for a long-term ecological research (LTER) program that is looking at Antarctic marine life to see how changing sea ice cover affects the ecosystem. The study area covers a region of 180,000 square kilometers (69,500 sq miles) that includes land and sea, and a wide range of ice cover. With its focus on monitoring the surrounding ocean, it is hardly surprising that the station has excellent marine tanks. They contain krill, starfish, sponges, and other strange creatures, such as gangly sea spiders. From the deck near the aquarium, several species of seals, including Crabeaters and Leopard seals, are usually visible; fur seals join them later in the season. Most visitors to Palmer are taken across the bay to Torgersen Island where there is a colony of Adélie penguins. The station staff is monitoring the effects of tourism, so visitors are asked to stay to the left (north) of the green flags delineating the control group.

There are so many Leopard seals at Palmer station that the base staff have taken to reinforcing the rubber sterns of their zodiacs because the seals like to chew through them.

Bahia Paraiso

Aurthur harbor contains the remains of one of Antarctica’s few ecological disasters. On 28 January, 1989 the Argentinian naval vessel, Bahia Paraiso, which was active in the Falklands conflict a few years earlier, ran onto a reef, tearing a hole in its side through which a vast quantity of diesel oil leaked into the sea. No one was injured, but the coastline was covered in oil, and terrible damage was inflicted on the local wildlife. Today, most species have recovered, and all that is evident of the inverted ship on the western side of the channel is the glint off the smooth, exposed hull.



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