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The Last Cold Place

A Field Season Studying Penguins in Antarctica

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About The Book

Lab Girl meets Why Fish Don’t Exist in this “compelling blend of memoir, environmental writing, and scientific exploration” (Kirkus Reviews) from a young scientist studying penguins in Antarctica—a firsthand account of the beauty and brutality of this remote climate, the direct effects of climate change on animals, and the challenges of fieldwork.

Offering a dramatic, captivating window into a once-in-a-lifetime experience, The Last Cold Place details Naira de Gracia’s time living and working in a remote outpost in Antarctica alongside seals, penguins, and a small crew of fellow field workers. In one of the most inhospitable environments in the world (for humans, anyway), Naira follows a generation of chinstrap penguins from their parents’ return to shore to build nests from pebbles until the chicks themselves are old enough to head out to sea.

Naira describes the life cycle of a funny, engaging colony of chinstrap penguins whose food source (krill, or small crustaceans) is powerfully affected by the changing ocean in lively and entertaining anecdotes. Weaving together the history of Antarctic exploration with climate science, field observations, and her own personal journey of growth and reflection, The Last Cold Place illuminates the complex place that Antarctica holds in our cultural imagination—and offers a rare glimpse into life on this uninhabited continent.

Excerpt

Chapter 1: Mid-October 1. Mid-October
On the morning of October 27, 2016, our inflatable dinghy cut through frigid waters toward the northern shores of Livingston Island. It was the first land I’d seen since we passed the last southern islands of South America five days earlier. The Zodiac carried the Cape Shirreff crew—Matt, Sam, Whitney, Mike, and me—plus a Zodiac operator from the ship and a couple of people headed to the antarctic base Palmer Station, on Anvers Island, who came to help us unload. We were all swaddled tight in bright orange float coats. I sat on the side of the Zodiac gripping wet rope and watching the bright metal hull of the ship shrink as we rode the billowing dark swells toward the island’s coast.

We’d just crossed the world’s stormiest stretch of ocean—the Drake Passage, the shortest crossing of the Southern Ocean from South America to the Antarctic Peninsula. At this latitude there are only a few scattered islands—no landmass significant enough to obstruct or slow down the antarctic circumpolar current, which whips around the globe unimpeded, speeding across the Southern Ocean with a ferocity unmatched anywhere else on earth. On a broad orange ship, we’d climbed the rolling hills of ocean swells, pitching forward and back, forward and back.

After five days of travel, we were finally on the Zodiac, pulling up onto a sheltered beach. The fog obscured everything except the rocky shore and our camp, which sat on a slight rise two hundred yards away. The huts looked like matchboxes scattered on a blanket of white, dropped from a giant’s pocket. I could barely discern the vague outlines of bigger hills. Cape Shirreff is one of two ice-free peninsulas on Livingston Island, 88 percent of which is covered by an ice cap. The island was just offset from the very northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, with nothing but open ocean between us and the southern edge of Chile, about five hundred and fifty miles away. King George Island, our more populated neighbor, was fifty miles east, the former home of the monitoring program and where many other bases still operated: South Korea, Chile, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Poland, and Germany all have a presence there. Livingston, in comparison, hosted the huts of our American camp on a northern peninsula, with two Chilean research huts nearby and small seasonal Spanish and Bulgarian bases on its southern coast. While the island was about forty miles long and fifteen miles wide, my world would exist solely on a tiny peninsula attached to the northern finger.

I breathed in the biting air as I wrestled off my float jacket, relishing the stability of the ground beneath me. I still felt the world swaying: forward and back, forward and back. The air temperatures hovered around -1°C, and the beach was littered with huge chunks of ice. At the high-tide line, the shelf of snow that covered the island was almost as high as my head.

The crew was composed of two seabird technicians and two seal technicians, one new and one returning on each team, plus one NOAA researcher from San Diego, where the Antarctic Marine Living Resources research program was headquartered, as our crew lead. When we accepted the job, we signed on for two seasons: one to learn and one to teach. Matt, my fellow seabird technician, was returning for his second season, joined by Whitney, the lead seal tech. Sam and I were new, and Mike, the NOAA researcher, rounded out the crew. As Matt and Whitney well knew, our first task was to dig steps into the wall of snow that rose from the rocks. Sam and I followed their lead in all things. Shovels out, we carved.

The world’s coldest and most remote continent sits like a blank white footer at the bottom of our maps, stretched to fit the flat cartography of a northern-centered worldview. But when mapped from a south pole perspective, Antarctica is close to round. East Antarctica—“East” in reference to Europe, of course—is the continent’s biggest component part, fanning out from the south pole like an ear. East Antarctica holds the continent’s thickest ice shelves and vast, snowless dry plains, both largely lifeless save for microbes and the occasional Weddell seal that wanders too far inland. The Transantarctic Mountains mark the boundary between East and West Antarctica. West Antarctica faces the Pacific Ocean, with two massive waterborne ice shelves on either side. Sticking out like a curved thumb between the ice shelves is the Antarctic Peninsula, the only part of the continent that reaches north of the antarctic circle.

Life on the continent thrives on the shore, where marine species use land to nap or breed, but there are no year-round terrestrial animals. The waters that fringe the continent teem with seals, whales, krill, fish, penguins, and strange and unique seafloor creatures, such as bright red sea urchins with vicious white spines and giant feathered sea stars.

Most of antarctic biodiversity depends on the rich waters of the Southern Ocean. The 1959 Antarctic Treaty, however, only assured protection for the land itself. The treaty was signed by the twelve countries—Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States—that had been active in Antarctica during the international polar years between 1882–83 and 1932–33. The international polar years were organized to coordinate data collection on Antarctica and the upper atmosphere. In the years following the signing of the treaty, as mariners discovered the vast untapped “resource” of antarctic krill that bred and thrived in this remote marine environment, commercial interest in the Southern Ocean grew. Beginning in the 1970s, ships from the USSR began fishing for krill, soon joined by ships from Japan, South Korea, China, and Norway.

Antarctic krill has the most biomass of any animal species on earth. If massed together, antarctic krill would weigh twice as much as the entire human population. Vast swarms spanning up to twelve miles—the largest animal aggregation in the world, another record—are scattered across the Southern Ocean in a patchy distribution that helps them avoid predators. Krill represent an abundance that challenges any reference we might have for the word, a staggering organic expanse coexisting in unified masses, suspended like a cloud of dust motes in cold and unforgiving waters. Krill is the keystone species of the Southern Ocean’s food web, holding the whole ecosystem together. Seals, penguins, whales, and many fish all depend directly or indirectly on krill for their survival.

As more countries began fishing for krill, the scientific committee that formed part of the Antarctic Treaty raised concerns that the krill fishery would impact the whole antarctic ecosystem. At the 1972 meeting of Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties, representing the treaty’s signatories, a resolution was approved to invest in scientific study of the Southern Ocean and establish a system under which it could be protected. This led to years of working groups that developed a conservation system for “Antarctic marine living resources” as well as a huge research initiative to understand the basics of the Southern Ocean ecosystem. Emerging from these efforts, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR, pronounced kam-lar) began operating in 1982. The twenty-five member countries of CCAMLR, including the United States, contribute to its budget, send representatives to meet yearly to make decisions, and participate in antarctic research.

The Antarctic Treaty system is the overarching international governance structure for research and regulation on the continent, something like a continent-specific UN. CCAMLR is a convention that forms part of the “treaty system” and is designed to address a specific antarctic issue—the conservation of marine life around Antarctica. CCAMLR takes an ecosystem approach to regulating the krill fishery, which involves establishing long-term ecosystem-monitoring programs throughout the continent, run by the parties that signed the convention. The United States contributes to ecosystem-monitoring research as a member of CCAMLR, and NOAA runs these research programs within the United States, as directed by a 1984 congressional mandate called the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Convention Act.

The two goals of CCAMLR’s ecosystem-monitoring program are to detect and record changes in the marine ecosystem around Antarctica and to distinguish between changes due to the fishery and due to environmental variability. A blunt approach to regulating the fishery would entail studying the target species only: the population and growth rates of krill, and how much can be harvested without decimating numbers. But an ecosystem-monitoring approach sets fishing limits that also account for krill’s role in the Southern Ocean marine ecosystem and is designed to avoid significant impacts on other species due to the harvesting of krill.

Fishing is not the only force acting upon the Antarctic food web. Climate change is poised to have a big impact on the ecosystem of the Southern Ocean, much of which depends on the yearly cycle of sea ice. While the long-term monitoring program was initiated to measure the impact of the fishery, climate change has become a key focus of the research conducted at CCAMLR’s ecosystem-monitoring sites.

With so many forces at play in these polar waters, how to distinguish between the effects of warming and the effects of commercial fishery? How does climate change impact krill populations in the Southern Ocean as a whole? Why, and how much, do just a few degrees matter in this ecosystem? How is CCAMLR to set precautionary fishing limits that account for both the impact of climate change and the fishery? Monitoring stations across the continent and surrounding waters collect the data that can lead to answers.

The five months at Cape Shirreff dovetailed with the summer breeding season of our target species: chinstrap penguins, gentoo penguins, and antarctic fur seals. Most of the methods we used were standard ecosystem-monitoring protocols developed by CCAMLR to ensure that data across projects could be compared. To monitor the penguins, we’d be documenting nest counts, adult survival, adult weight, egg weight, egg lay dates, chick hatch dates, chick growth rates, chick survival, and the composition of penguin diets. We’d attach data loggers to penguins to measure the duration of their foraging trips, how deep they had to dive to find food, and where they found it. While we were there, we also monitored the reproductive success of skuas, predatory seabirds that feed on penguin eggs and chicks during the breeding season. Sam and Whitney would track the breeding of antarctic fur seals and would keep tabs on all the seals that hauled out on the peninsula.

The same ship that plucked us from the southern tip of South America would pick us up again in March, after all the penguin chicks had fledged and the fur seal puppies had weaned off their mother’s milk, prepared for a long winter in a turbulent sea.

Two Zodiacs shuttled gear from the ship to the shore: all the food, equipment, and personal bags we’d need for the next five months. The gear piled up on the beach. Some gear was stashed in the large plastic crates that had been buried in the snow. The crates protected gear while it was staged on the beach. After hauling plastic totes and drybags onshore and lugging them up toward land, Sam and I headed to camp for the first time, laden with boxes of food. On our way, we spotted a penguin walking what we later learned was a well-worn trail leading from the beaches south of camp to the penguin colonies. We pointed at it and exclaimed, “Look! A penguin!” I was still so green to Antarctica I didn’t even know what kind of penguin it was. Matt, freckled and with his characteristic bushy ginger beard, sidled up and informed us that it was a gentoo. Sam and I just stared at it, beaming and wide-eyed.

While Sam and I were near strangers, Matt and I had met three years before on a windswept island in the Bering Sea, somewhere between Alaska and Siberia. He had tutored me in banding wriggling murres we caught on steep cliffs, in the steady patience required to catch and work with seabirds, in the determination necessary to get things done in inclement weather and acute discomfort. Along with everything he had to teach me came the curious mind, ironic humor, and sense of adventure that made us close friends. At thirty-five, he’d been hopping around on the field circuit for a decade longer than I had. When I first met him in my nascent field career, I had been awed by his decade of islands and birds and fieldwork, thinking that this was exactly what I wanted to be doing: moving from one island to the next, always living in bunks or tents, largely working outside in far-flung places that numbered higher in birds than people.

I’d heard about the Cape Shirreff program as many field techs do: from other field techs, part of the field-technician world and culture I’d first joined during college summers, working on seabird-monitoring islands in Alaska. My first window into fieldwork was a stint in northern Maine. I got to stay on a seabird-nesting island for ten days, and I was sold. For my second full field season, I applied for a student program with the Fish and Wildlife Service and headed to southeast Alaska, a temperate rain forest bursting with storm petrels. There, I worked with someone who had cut her teeth down on King George Island, which neighbors Livingston Island. I heard the stories of cold hands and violent storms, of a rock in the middle of the Southern Ocean where penguins were a part of daily life. Back at university, I worked for a professor who’d also done many years down at King George, and I heard more stories of mold and the pungent aroma of penguin. I took to fieldwork with fanatic zeal and set my sights on the antarctic.

For a field technician, Antarctica was the ultimate season: ultimate remoteness, ultimate species, ultimate immersion. I’d wanted to go since the very first story graced my ears. To apply, one had to chase up one of the lead researcher’s contact information through friends or colleagues. The job was not advertised. To get a spot, it helped enormously to have someone known to the program who could vouch for you—who’d worked with you in the field. I had the credentials, but when I applied, I also had Matt’s backing, which meant a lot from the person whom I’d be working with the most.

It had been two years since I’d seen Matt, back when we’d road tripped up the West Coast to his new home in Alaska. I flew back to California once we reached Juneau—I’d just graduated college and was about to start the next year working as a farm manager at my university. Aching for fieldwork, I ran off to work on another island once my year was up: Midway Atoll, a speck in the Pacific Ocean halfway between California and Japan. From Midway, I’d written Matt long emails about the albatross that covered every square inch of the island, about learning all the native plants and restoring sandy habitat. He wrote me from Cape Shirreff, describing the hut, the wind, the landscape, and penguin mannerisms.

Heading into a small field camp for five months, where getting along with one’s crewmates could make or break the season, I knew I could count on him and that was a balm to my nerves. Matt was like a boulder held steady in the middle of a rushing river. The contrast between my incessant forward drive and Matt’s thoughtful progress is one of the things that make us a good team.

Sam, Matt, and I headed toward the snow-covered cluster of huts we called camp. The largest of the huts was our main living space and the first priority for opening. Mike and Whitney had been busy uncovering all the essential doors and propane hookups along the outside. After the door had been dug out and its cover removed, Whitney pried it open and stepped inside.

Main hut, stark and dim, would be our bedroom, kitchen, dining room, office, and living room. The walls were painted white—what you could see of them, at least, behind the shelves and maps and pictures and gear. No space was left unused. Everything was bagged in plastic for overwintering in March the year before, an attempt to stave off the mold. And I mean everything: folding chairs, all the kitchen appliances and food, all electronics, dishes, bowls, pans. Unlike Palmer Station, a year-round research station, Cape Shirreff is a seasonal monitoring camp, meaning it only operates in the summer months, during the wildlife breeding season.

It was hard to see a shred of coziness and livability in this collection of moldy wood panels and bagged utensils. I was reminded of all the times, growing up, that I walked into a space for the first time knowing it would be my home for the next however many years. Every time I moved to a new place, I’d project myself into the walls, measuring the dimensions of my future, trying to imagine my life in the empty spaces. The main living hut was standard fare for a field camp: bunks, a table, a kitchen, a desk area for data, and little else.

Mike introduced every hut and area of camp with a story from his decades of field seasons. He’d had a hand in naming almost everything, which meant a lot of time-honored jokes were passed down to us with the rest of the work. Before working at the Cape, Mike had monitored a small population of fur seals on Seal Island, a tiny rock in subantarctic waters, from 1986 to 1992. In 1995, the director of NOAA’s Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division asked him to establish a long-term monitoring program at Cape Shirreff based on CCAMLR research protocols. Chilean researchers had been going down to the Cape as early as 1991 to conduct fur seal counts, and the Cape, with both breeding seal populations and penguin populations, was an ideal site to establish an ecosystem-monitoring camp. While the legislated purpose of CCAMLR’s monitoring program was to inform fishing regulations by tracking indicator species, scientists were beginning to see warnings of growing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and it became increasingly clear to the program leads, Mike and his seabird counterpart, Wayne Trivelpiece, that the effect of climate change on this remote ecosystem would be a critical part of their research.

The bare bones of the camp were built in the austral summer of 1996–97—what in the northern hemisphere would be the winter—and it was a bafflingly complicated undertaking, as everything that makes up the physical structure of camp was brought in via inflatable dinghy and off-loaded on a rocky beach. With the climate already shifting conditions in the Antarctic Peninsula, Mike, Wayne, and their hired crews rushed to establish a baseline against which future changes could be measured.

Besides main hut, camp also featured an attached workshop and small lab for preparing and sorting fur seal samples such as scat and blood: a short counter a yard and a half across, stacks of shelves with vials, tubes, and sampling equipment, and a microscope perched in the corner. The “stay-wet room,” initially intended as a room for drying things, adjoined main hut and was the shower and laundry space. A separate supply hut a few meters from main hut was our pantry and had an extra small room in the back, which was typically used for the research leads such as Mike to sleep in blissful privacy (the “old fart’s room”). A wooden outhouse (two seats and two buckets: one for solids, one for liquids) stood off on its own, near a small garage for the utility task vehicle (UTV). Whitney and Mike had fired up the UTV, complete with snow treads, and Matt was driving it back and forth from the beach to camp, pulling sleds piled high. Matt assigned me to the “freshies room,” a space joined to the side of main hut, where our vegetable crates, chest freezer, and other food that required refrigeration would be stored. Refrigeration, in this case, simply meant that the space was unheated. The crew directed all vegetable and fresh-food boxes to me, and I frantically packed peppers and cabbages and potatoes in crates, stacked cheese on a shelf, and threw seafood, meat, and other frozen foods into the chest freezer, which was not plugged into anything but rather would be kept cold by ambient temperatures and all the frozen things we would stuff into it.

Piles of gear lay everywhere, between all the buildings, behind camp, in front of camp, on snow that covered a theoretical deck. Food, sample-processing equipment, materials to maintain the physical structure of the huts, capture equipment, clothes: It seemed as if we’d never unpack it all. After many Zodiac runs, a mate hailed us on the radio system Mike had revived from its winter dormancy. The ship wouldn’t leave until our communication system was up and running. We’d also have a satellite phone and a satellite email service on a single computer, to be set up in the first days of camp.

Once we confirmed that all was well, I watched the Laurence M. Gould pull away and with it the last link that tethered me to the rest of the world. The stillness of the island settled over me. I took a deep breath. It was just the five of us now. I was nervous, exhausted, and grinning madly.

Finally on the shores of the white continent, I felt like I stood on the edge of a deep, vast chasm that gaped between the present and the March pickup at the end of the season. I was eager for all of it—the discomfort, the wind, the chores, the fieldwork itself—ready for everything I was about to feel and experience that I couldn’t yet imagine. In past seasons on other islands, my expectations had been upended by the social and cultural world that developed within a small crew, working mostly alone for long hours in wet, cold, or windy conditions. Antarctica was my most remote field season to date. Though the parameters of the work were clear, our environment was unpredictable—everything we did depended on both volatile weather and volatile wildlife. Every day could bring something unexpected.

We spent hours hauling gear up to camp, slogging up the hill through the snow. By evening, essential foods and boxes had been put away, everything on the beach was secured and organized, and all essential entry points had been dug out. We settled into the cabin. It exuded a musty, moldy smell that told of a long, wet, cold winter. All our cleaning supplies were frozen solid and therefore useless. Outside the snow blew horizontally, but I was too flushed from activity to be cold.

Matt, Sam, Whitney, and I would sleep in the main hut bunks, and Mike in the back of the supply hut. Having claimed our beds—Matt and Whitney had first dibs and quickly beelined for the ones they’d had last year; Sam and I took the other bunk bed, with me in the top bunk—we made our first dinner in camp.

The time-honored tradition was to buy empanadas in Punta Arenas and throw them in the oven to heat on the first day, to avoid unpacking the whole kitchen to cook dinner. Mike couldn’t seem to get the oven to work, so we ate them cold, sitting in folding chairs at the table, drybags scattered on the floor all around us, kitchen half-unpacked, outdoor gear still on. Whitney turned on the recently revived propane heater, waking up the ice inside a blue five-hundred-gallon water barrel from its long winter hibernation. As the cabin warmed for the first time in seven months, the ice hissed and crackled and growled, and we laughed and laughed because it sounded as if something were trapped in there, and because we were so tired and aflutter we wouldn’t be able to stop giggling even if the ice fell silent.

Mike, Matt, and Whitney had all worked at the Cape together the previous year, and all of us except for Sam had been bumping around the seabird and seal field-job circuit for years. Long-term ecosystem-monitoring studies need people on the ground, stationed in remote field camps, documenting the populations and reproductive successes of species of interest. Many folks that study ecosystem-level biology look to get some fieldwork experience before moving up as researchers or natural-resource managers, building off degrees in biology, ecology, natural-resource management, or wildlife science. Field technicians are a mixed bag, and while there is no majority career path, a common trajectory is to move from fieldwork to jobs as a crew lead, then to grad school, and eventually into a research-coordinator and camp-supervisor role. A few rare ones tackled a PhD and ended up higher in refuge-career levels, managing several camps and steering whole research programs. Some field techs had no desire to move up the career ladder and simply fit into fieldwork like a hermit crab into its shell, hopping from one remote, seasonal data-collecting job to another.

When I first started doing fieldwork in college, my guiding professor, who’d been around the circuit many times herself, told me that at a certain point I’d want to ask my own questions and design my own studies, rather than collect data for someone else’s research. My expectation had always been that I’d go to grad school, carry out my own research project, maybe get a PhD, work as a researcher at an ecosystem-monitoring program, and eventually run camps like those in which I worked. After five years, though, I still loved being someone else’s hands on the ground—I felt as if I had all the fun and less of the responsibility.

In the evening, as the dust settled, I took a moment to absorb the shape of my new home. I stood by the propane heater, hands outstretched to catch the warmth, staring out the window to the snow, beach, and ocean beyond. So much technology was necessary to get us out to camp—the massive, hulking ship, the Zodiacs, the UTV, the vast networks of governance and regulation coordinating across international boundaries—but once we were here, life was quite primitive. A small band of people huddling around a fire, just as our ancestors once had.

Antarctica is the epitome of everything that is, in the Western worldview, wild and remote. Two years out of college and beginning my fifth field posting, I was ever chasing the high of a far-flung island, of rocky beaches and birds, embracing a lifestyle that indulged an innate restlessness I’ve never quite been able to shake. The island I’d worked on before had been fertile ground for my wandering mind—ever since Alaska, I’d tried to unravel the ways social and economic paradigms shaped the intimate relationship between me and the ecosystem around me. Antarctica was the ultimate proving ground; not a final destination, but an experience that might lead me toward the kind of existential revelation I always felt was waiting on the next island. In a pursuit to understand ecosystems, maybe I could understand everything. Maybe I could even understand myself.

I’d already given the crew my usual “Where are you from?” spiel: My parents are journalists; my mother’s family is American but she grew up in Mexico, where her family has lived for two generations; my father is from Spain (the only uncomplicated part of my heritage); my parents met in Panama; I was born in California, then we moved to Spain, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and Egypt; and I moved back to California for college. When I was young, I crossed so much distance so often that it became a simple fact of my life: I was a foreigner everywhere, and that distance often came between me and the world around me. When I started working on remote islands, distance served to keep the rest of the world away, and in the absence of society, I found a deep, intimate relationship with the biome in which I lived, a closeness, a resonance. The distance between me and my host ecosystem would shrink, become a sliver, and sometimes disappear altogether.

Though I’d eagerly been following a trail of islands—from Maine, to Alaska, to Hawaii—I wasn’t yet sure where they would lead. The milestones years down the track were like a mirage, barely there, unfocused. Hastily sketched from what others had done after walking this path—not exactly mine and not exactly front of mind. Warming my fingers by the fire and looking out at the light playing on snow, I was too wrapped up absorbing the antarctic island that would be my home to imagine what might lie beyond it.

About The Author

Naira de Gracia grew up moving around the world with her journalist parents and sibling. She graduated high school in Cairo, Egypt, and attended college in California. After completing her BA in biology, she worked as a wildlife technician for six years, on remote islands in the Hawaiian chain, the Antarctic, the Samoan archipelago, the Bering Sea and off the coast of California, continuously writing about her experiences. She currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand. The Last Cold Place is her first book.

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Raves and Reviews

“A compelling blend of memoir, environmental writing, and scientific exploration ... An intriguing, introspective account.”
Kirkus

“de Gracia spent five months as a field worker gathering data on penguins on Antarctica’s Livingston Island during 2016 and 2017… [she adds] personal flair to this quick read for penguin lovers.”
Booklist

"A well-written memoir of a scientific field study season. De Gracia engages and pulls the reader into the Antarctic summer, its climate, and its creatures; the penguins are, of course, completely enchanting.”
Library Journal

“On the light-washed shores of Cape Shirreff, de Gracia finds meaning in a wilderness seemingly untouched by human presence. In her hands, a book about penguins in a time of climate change transforms into a poignant exploration of how to make sense of one’s life, and how best to use it.”
—Sarah Stewart Johnson, planetary scientist, Antarctic researcher, and author of The Sirens of Mars

“Naira de Gracia is the Jane Goodall of penguins we didn’t know we needed. This masterful memoir is like a literary Blue Planet: de Gracia’s gorgeous, cinematic prose brings us into the lives of pebble-pilfering penguins and wallowing seals, capturing the sublime natural beauty of a remote and frozen continent whose survival is deeply intwined with our own.”
—Jennifer Worley, author of Neon Girls

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