4 Women Depart UK for Antarctic to Run World’s Most Remote Post Office—and Count Penguins—for Winter

BY Louise Chambers TIMEOctober 29, 2022 PRINT

An all-female team of four is getting ready to travel 9,000 miles from England to Antarctica on a mission to reopen the world’s most southerly, and most remote, post office and museum.

Besting 4,000 other candidates for the coveted posts, the women will station at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island in the Antarctic Peninsula, a historic site run by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT). Starting early November, the assignment will last five months—through the winter and Christmas—and will mark the first time the charity’s flagship site has been opened since the pandemic.

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(L-R) Clare Ballantyne, Mairi Hilton, Natalie Corbett, and Lucy Bruzzone. (Courtesy of UK Antarctic Heritage Trust)

Lucy Bruzzone will assume the role of base leader; Clare Ballantyne will be postmaster; the duties of shop manager will be assumed by Natalie Corbett; wildlife monitor will be the title of Mairi Hilton. Former Port Lockroy team member Vicky Inglis will join them, spending ten weeks helping them acclimatize to the unique and taxing post.

The sun barely sets on Goudier Island—meaning there is near-continuous daylight. And they’ll have to get used to the sting of sub-zero temperatures. The team’s living quarters on the tiny island have no wifi, no running water, no flushing toilet, and some interesting neighbors: a colony of gentoo penguins.

Ballantyne and Corbett told ITV News that they expect “little downtime,” but will be taking board games, books, and tablets with downloaded films with them. They will also take walks to explore the landscape.

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The Port Lockroy Post Office surrounded by a number of gentoo penguins in Antarctica. (Courtesy of UK Antarctic Heritage Trust)

“Each team member has a keen sense of adventure and genuine love of Antarctica,” said UKAHT CEO Camilla Nichol in a press release. “It will be a challenging role … but they will play an essential part in bringing Port Lockroy and its museum to life.”

Besides the team’s daily roles running the post office, museum, and gift shop, Hilton will be tasked with conducting a “penguin count” as part of a long-term study of the breeding success of the colony; the Government of the British Antarctic Territory donates a portion of post office revenue to UKAHT to fund research.

The women will train together before departing from the city of Cambridge, England, for Antarctica. That training will entail briefings from a “penguinologist” and remote first aid practices.

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The post office seen situated on the rocky shores of Goudier Island, Antarctica. (Courtesy of UK Antarctic Heritage Trust)

Postmaster Ballantyne, a recent Master’s graduate in earth sciences and an ultramarathon runner, will be tasked with sorting by hand approximately 80,000 postcards bound for international addresses. What she’s most looking forward to is calling the island—with it’s picture-perfect Fief mountains and glaciers—”home” and “taking in the cacophony and pungent smell of the penguins.”

Penguin counting aside, Wildlife Monitor Hilton will be monitoring new hatchlings and nests and will record ships, plus an anticipated 18,000 visitors to the area. Scotland native Hilton has a Ph.D. in conservation biology and has undertaken wildlife research expeditions to the Peruvian Amazon and Trinidad and Tobago. This will be her first time visiting Antarctica.

“I have no idea what to expect when we get there, how cold it will be,” said Hilton. “Will we have to dig our way through the snow to the post office? … personally, I can’t wait to see the penguins, and other wildlife like seabirds and whales.”

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Gentoo penguin nestlings sighted near the post office in Port Lockroy. (Courtesy of UK Antarctic Heritage Trust)

Bruzzone once spent three months on an Arctic expedition in Svalbard serving as chief scientist. Now, she is on secondment from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership to attend Port Lockroy—her lifelong dream—where, as base leader, she will manage the team, coordinate ship visits, and liaise with expedition leaders.

Like her teammates, she “can’t wait” to live and work in the unique, remote environment of Port Lockroy.

Shop Manager Corbett has over ten years’ experience in retail and her own business selling handmade pet accessories. She also recently got married.

“I first read about this job on the BBC and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it just be the most amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience?’” she said. “I’ll be leaving behind my husband, George, who I only married in June, so I’m treating this like my solo honeymoon!”

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Gentoo penguins on the rocky shores of Goudier Island, Antacrtica. (Courtesy of UK Antarctic Heritage Trust)

Set to welcome the team, Inglis was Port Lockroy’s general assistant and wildlife monitor during the 2019/20 season. The site holds a special place in her heart. After helping them settle, she will lead a conservation field team at a nearby UKAHT heritage site in Damoy.

Inglis said she has gathered “all the equipment, provisions, and five months-worth of toilet roll” that the new team will need, and aims to absorb as much of the shock adjusting to their new climate as possible.

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Louise Chambers is a writer, born and raised in London, England. She covers inspiring news and human interest stories.
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