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The call of the poles: 2 very special envoys to the Great White Continent

A trip to Antarctica to understand the worldwide environmental situation

Going to see the impact of climate change in situ, feeling the thrill of adventure in the face of the icy vastness of the White Continent and telling the story in order to raise awareness of the urgent need to protect the polar environment: this is the mission entrusted to two young high school students who stood out during an educational project initiated by the PONANT Foundation, Cercle Polaire and the Rennes education authority.

The “Alphabet of the Poles”, a campaign to raise awareness of the polar environment

This adventure is the result of an ambitious educational project, deployed in cooperation with the organisation Cercle Polaire, a trusted partner of PONANT and the Rennes education authority. Between January and March 2020, more than 800 students and some twenty schools worked with leading specialists to produce an “Alphabet of the Poles” in the form of presentations based on a word evoking the polar environment. The meteorologist and glaciologist Jean Jouzel and the explorer Jean-Louis Etienne, surrounded by a plethora of personalities from the scientific world, as well as politicians and journalists, sponsored the project and provided exciting lectures for the students.

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Julien and Elsa, budding writers…

At the end of a virtual conference, bringing together 600 people, to close the project and present the prizes to the winning classes, PONANT made an appearance to unveil the next step of the project: to choose two young special envoys, selected on their ability to imagine this exceptional environment in words, to sail to Antarctica. Among the many entries received, those of Julien, 17, and Elsa, 18, stood out. “They had collected information on icebergs, seal species, they had imagined their impressions, the blinding sun… they had understood everything”, commented Laurent Mayet, President of Cercle Polaire. Beautiful writing, an essential tool needed to describe and share their southern adventure live on their future blog.

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…ultra connected…

When their selection was announced, Julien and Elsa had to keep quiet about it. A year ago, they would never have imagined being part of such an expedition to Antarctica. Their daily blog will bring Antarctica very close, and through it their journey will be transformed into a real collective initiation. Elsa, now a first-year art history student at the Louvre school in Paris, has already planned to tell everyone around her, her friends and family, but also her previous biology teacher’s new students, so that the blog can be as interactive as possible and she can answer certain questions live. While Elsa is a talented artist and may also post sketches, Julien has the keen eye of an amateur naturalist and plans to bring a good camera and binoculars so he can share shots of the extraordinary wildlife.

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…to the environment

For Elsa, “it is truly an experience that has the potential to have a positive impact on the future if we manage to tell as many people as possible about it”. Like many young people their age, they feel particularly concerned about the future of the planet, and know that the north and south poles act like sentinels, symbols through which we can assess the impact of our lifestyles and assess the transformations that must take place to ensure a sustainable future.

The next step: a few months before boarding, an official ceremony will be held in the presence of the project partners to present Elsa and Julien with their travel bags and parkas.

Photo credits: ©StudioPONANT/Olivier Blaud/Violette Vauchelle/Julie Lacombe 

“Special Envoy”… for a different vision of tourism

For the man with a passion for words, Laurent Mayet, the name “special envoy” carries within it all the meaning of the ecological commitment of the Cercle Polaire, which defends the idea of limiting the number of visitors to the poles. The organisation campaigns for rules to be tightened in order to preserve the polar regions by defining a limited number of tourists per year. These “happy few” would, on the other hand, have a duty to communicate and share their experiences upon their return, following the example of the astronauts who have enjoyed the status of “special envoy of mankind” since 1967. “Antarctica and the Moon definitely share a few commonalities”, Laurent Mayet likes to point out.

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