Season 3 Episode 2 | Birdgirl in Antarctica
Alok Jha talks to Mya-Rose Craig, aka Birdgirl, the British-Bangladeshi birder, race activist and environmentalist, about travelling to Antarctica and the impact the frozen continent has had on her climate activism.
Mya-Rose’s memoir, Birdgirl, published by Penguin in June 2022, shares her journey to activism and joy through birding, during a deepening family mental health crisis.
When Mya-Rose was 11, she started her popular Birdgirl blog and, at age 14, she founded her charity Black2Nature, which engages VME young people in the UK with nature. At 17, she became the youngest person to see half the world’s bird species and the youngest person to receive an honorary Doctorate of Science in recognition of her pioneering campaigning work.
In 2020 Mya-Rose shared a stage with Greta Thunberg and took part in the most Northerly Youth Strike for Climate in the Arctic with Greenpeace. In 2021, she spoke at COP26 on a panel with Emma Watson, Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai.
Season 3 of A Voyage to Antarctica is made possible with support from Hurtigruten Expeditions.
Listen now (a full transcript is available below):
Episode 2 Transcript Birdgirl in Antarctica: Mya-Rose Craig
Alok Jha (00.00) Let me take you on a journey. To the coldest place on earth, and its last and greatest wilderness. On a voyage to Antarctica…
Hello and welcome back to A Voyage to Antarctica, brought to you by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. I’m Alok Jha.
Our guest this week is the extraordinary Mya-Rose Craig, aka ‘Birdgirl.
Mya-Rose is a 20-year-old British-Bangladeshi birder, race activist and environmentalist campaigning for equal access to nature, to stop climate change and biodiversity loss, and to ensure global climate justice – all of which she believes are closely interlinked.
Mya-Rose’s memoir Birdgirl, in which she shares how she found her voice and joy through birding during a deepening family mental health crisis, was published by Vintage Books in June 2022. Before that, her first book, We Have a Dream, highlighted 30 young global environmentalists of colour and was nominated for Discovery Book of the Year at the 2022 British Book Awards.
When Mya-Rose was 11, she started her popular Birdgirl blog and at age 14, she launched the charity Black2Nature, which focuses on engaging Visible Minority Ethnic communities with nature. At 17, not only did she become the youngest person to see half the world’s bird species, but also the youngest person to receive an honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Bristol in recognition of her pioneering campaigning work.
In 2020 she shared a stage with Greta Thunberg in front of 40,000 climate activists, and travelled to the Arctic with Greenpeace, for whom she is an Oceans Ambassador, to take part in the most northerly Youth Strike for Climate. In 2021, Mya-Rose spoke at COP26 on a panel with Emma Watson, Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai.
Alok Jha (02.15) So Mya-Rose, it says in your memoirs that you feel like you've been birding forever, and in fact that you were only nine days old when you went on your first expedition out to go and look for birds. I'm not gonna ask you if you remember that event (or maybe you do – tell me if you do). But can you tell me how you got into birding in the first place? What brought you into it?
Mya-Rose Craig (02.35) Yeah, I feel like in some ways my journey into bird watching isn't very exciting. There was no like light bulb moment for me, and it was literally just that I came from family, you know, my parents, my older sister, all super obsessed with birds, spent my whole childhood, like you said, from when I was nine days old, going out, bird watching.
And so I think if anything, my light bulb moment was actually when I started going to school and I started talking to other kids much more, and I suddenly realised that not everyone else also did this with all their spare time. And I sort of suddenly realised that not everyone else would also obsessive bird watchers.
Alok Jha (03.10) So were you aware of all the names of birds, the colours of birds and what birds appeared were, even very, very early?
Mya-Rose Craig (03.17) Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I think that was one of the really lovely things about learning from a very young age actually, was there was no concentrated effort where I sat down with a bird book and I memorised everything. It was something that just came very naturally to me where I could sort of look at a shape of something and be like, oh, that could be that, or that could be that, or it'd be a time of year and I could be like, oh, we could see this.
And like I said, I think realising that other people did not have that skill-set was quite a weird realisation for me. And I, I do think, actually the one thing I would say was I think having an older sister who – like she was a teenager and she was really cool and I wanted to be exactly like her in every way. And I think sort of during that period where I realised that bird watching was a bit weird and a bit nerdy, like having this sister who I really looked up to also be very into birds, I think, just having that role model was very, very important.
Alok Jha (04.08) Role models are always important in all of these different walks of life, whether it's bird watching music, any of these things, older brothers and sisters – I am one by the way, so therefore I would say that.
Tell me about the sort of first birds that were your favorites then in that case, I mean, if that even is a way of describing things. Were there ones that you particularly liked and near where you lived or on particular expeditions? What sort of caught your eye first?
Mya-Rose Craig (04.30) So I didn't really go out of the country until I was a bit older. And so I think for a really long time my favourite birds were the ones that I saw in the garden. Like I was a big fan of Dunnocks and Wrens and Robins and things like that –
Alok Jha: Love a Robin
Mya-Rose Craig (04.43) – I remember occasionally we'd get a Bullfinch in the garden, which has this like beautiful, very peachy front on it. And I'd always like run and find my parents and be like – there's a bullfinch in the garden! I used to love ducks and geese that we got very locally to me down at the lake. You know, it's just things that I saw a lot near me were, I think, the things that I really just loved.
Alok Jha (05.05) Yeah, I mean the birds in England and Wales and Scotland are beautiful and I guess when you do start going out beyond, you must have been dazzled by the colours and the shapes and the sizes and things?
Mya-Rose Craig (05.16) Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Like I think the first big bird watching trip I went on, I was eight and we went to Ecuador, which was just, it was insane –
Alok Jha Oh, that's a big deal.
Mya-Rose Craig (05.24) It was a big deal. And one of the big moments for me on this trip was when I saw Hummingbirds for the first time, and they're just these beautiful jewel-toned birds that like whizzing between flowers all the time. Just constantly flying. And I just immediately fell in love with them. I thought they were so beautiful and I literally, I remember turning around to my parents at eight years old and being like, ‘I want to see every single hummingbird in the world’ ‘cause I just loved them. I went absolutely insane when I was exposed to all these bright tropical birds.
Alok Jha (05.55) Yeah, absolutely. And Hummingbirds as well – they're almost magical in the way that they move around –
Mya-Rose Craig Oh absolutely –
Alok Jha (06.00) Fly backwards and all of that. And you were talking about expeditions. I mean, you went to Antarctica when you were 13 years old. I mean, I didn't go until I was in my mid thirties, and I found it difficult. I mean, as a 13 year old, what's it like going to Antarctica?
Mya-Rose Craig (06.12) Uh, again, it was insane. And I think in many ways it was just nothing like what I expected. In some ways, Antarctica isn’t actually amazing for birds. You don't get that many different ones there. It's mainly on Antarctica itself, it's mainly just penguins, which there are a lot of, but not many different species of – as I'm sure you know, very loud, very smelly. But it was just this beautiful, very otherworldly place. I'd never seen anything like it.
I was very worried beforehand. It sounds silly now cause I'm not very good in the cold, and I was worried that my fingers and my toes would be cold all the time. But it was one of those things that when you got there, you just sort of forgot about all of those sorts of things and you were just desperately trying to take it all in around you.
Alok Jha (06.57): I mean, that's not silly at all because I didn't think about the cold at all before I went, and then, then I got sort of shocked. But you're absolutely right because it is the entire environment around you, there's nothing you can do about it. You sort of let it in.
I mean, we're recording this now and in London it's pretty much Antarctic temperatures, I would say.
Mya-Rose Craig Yeah.
Alok Jha (07.13): And I found it much more difficult than when I was in Antarctica,, minus 20 degrees Celsius every single day. It's a very strange sort of psychological shift you make, isn't it? What drew you to that continent then? What did you want to sort of do or see there?
Mya-Rose Craig (07.25): I think it was a few different things. My parents had an opportunity to take me, and as a kid I'd always dreamed of going to all the continents basically on this quest to see as many birds as possible.But I think also looking back there was definitely this sense of like, I don't know how long it's going to be here, so we need to grab this opportunity while we still can. Because who knows when I'm an adult, you know, how much they'll still be. But also, you know what? I do love a good penguin. Like genuinely –
Alok Jha: Who Doesn’t? Who doesn't?
Mya-Rose Craig (07.57): Like, they're so gorgeous. And the thing about the Antarctic penguins is obviously they're very scared when they're swimming around ‘cause they have predators. But when they're stood on the land, there's nothing that eats them. So they're so friendly and so unafraid of people and they will just come right up to you to figure out what you are.And they were just brilliant.
Alok Jha (08.14): Did you take pictures? I mean, someone told me once that the way that any Antarctic expedition can be measured is directly related to how many pictures of penguins you come back with.
Mya-Rose Craig (08.24) Thousands. Thousands of pictures of penguins.
Alok Jha Still going through them many years later.
Mya-Rose Craig Right, exactly.Yeah.
Alok Jha (08.30) But you know, you didn't, you did, it wasn't just penguins, of course. When you crossed Drake's passage, on the way to Antarctica, you saw Albatrosses. These are magnificent creatures. Tell me what it was like seeing those?
Mya-Rose Craig (08.39) Oh Albatrosses are literally some of my favourite birds and I think it's partially actually, cause I was lucky enough to see a black browed albatross that got a bit lost off of the Cornish coast when I was a kid. And it was just a bird that was so beautiful and just so didn't belong with it's like beautiful gliding wings. And I've justloved them ever since.
And we just saw so many different species of albatrosses. Crossing Antarctica and it was amazing cuz you're seeing things like wandering albatrosses and black brown albatrosses. And then you suddenly see them together and you realise that one's like double the size of the other. And then suddenly you'll see a different kind of seabird fly by and you'll realise that they're both just these ginormous birds that are just sort of gliding around on these wing spans that are like metres and metres and they're just ridiculous and beautiful, basically.
Alok Jha (09.29): Graceful and, and yeah, exactly. All of those things. And of course there are other species of birds in the South there, you know, as you get towards Antarctica, which most of us who've never left the ‘civilised’ continents have never ever come across things like Petrels and Snow Petrels.
You had a competition with Chris Packham, I believe, from Springwatch to see who could spot a snow petrel first. I mean, tell me about those birds. Why do you think that they're so special?
Mya-Rose Craig (09.52): Oh gosh. I think like – I did have a competition with him and it was because we were both sort of going like, oh, I bet you haven't seen this. I bet you haven't seen this. And the one he finally stumped me on was the snow petrel before he admitted he also hadn't seen one. So I desperately wanted to see one, partially just to get back at him, But I think there's just something very.eEthereal about the wildlife in Antarctica. And I dunno if it is just the lack of human contact or the lack of sort of photos of it online and things like that ‘cause people just aren't able to go. But the snow petrel in particular was just this really magical experience, because we went out on these tiny dinghies and we were motoring towards this iceberg, and as we got closer and closer, I realised that this floating piece of ice was like as tall as a skyscraper and just went on for miles. Like it was the biggest piece of ice I've ever seen, and it was terrifying, I think, in the way that a lot of things in nature are beautiful and terrifying. And then – just it's completely white all over the snow petrel. So we didn't see it, and then it just emerged above this towering ice and it was just so beautiful and it was just such a special experience
Alok Jha And a - completely white dove-like almost isn't it? Tiny, tiny black eyes and a tiny black beak.
Mya-Rose Craig So beautiful
Alok Jha (11.08): Otherwise, completely disappears into the ice. I mean – remarkable, remarkable. Again, you never see them unless you were to go 60 degrees south, basically. It's quite remarkable.
Now, talking about penguins earlier – I'm led to believe that, for you, the ultimate bird watching experience was to actually spot an Emperor Penguin. These are amazing. Obviously everyone knows what they look like, but just describe what an Emperor Penguin looks like and then well, why was it the highlight for you?
Mya-Rose Craig (11.34); Okay, so the, the main thing – the context is that like obviously Antarctica is ginormous and not everything lives on the edge where you can get to by boat.
And one of those things is the Emperor Penguin, which I feel like you see so much on TV, but in reality you literally have to like helicopter into the Antarctic circle to try and see one and spend a lot of money and time in the process. And so we just had no expectation.
And then one day, I think, it was actually possibly Christmas day, we're all sort of very urgently summoned onto the deck of the boat and we all look up and there's this small little – I don’t know, scrubby group of rocks ahead of us and over the intercom, they just go “and up on the right is an emperor penguin” and me – like all the others aren't bird watchers. So they all go like, oh yeah, that's nice. Me and my parents turn to each other and we go, “what!?”
And basically it was this juvenile Emperor Penguin. They sort of – when they’re, I guess, teenagers, they go off and they explore and they see the world a bit before they come back to breed. And this was just a juvenile that had gone a bit more North than was maybe expected of it.
And it was just this amazing experience as we zoom past to just see this bird that we had no expectation of seeing, just very casually hanging out with some other much smaller penguins on the rocks.
Alok Jha (13:04): You talked about how your family has been important in understanding the beauty of birds, and they even got you into bird watching and you went to Antarctica with them. Can you just describe that experience? What was it like to go there and share that experience with your family and what, what did you talk about? What were you sort of most excited about when you got there?
Mya-Rose Craig (13:23): It was a lot of different things, like I think we spent a lot of time up on top of the boat, which was freezing cold, so a lot of the other passengers didn't – just stood to the side watching these birds go by and we spent so much time talking about birds, but also –
Alok Jha: I'm not surprised by that, about that
Mya-Rose Craig: - but also there was this one really interesting presentation right as we arrived. Where it was one of the guides that had taken us, this big group of people that was just saying like every single person who visits Antarctica is now a steward and is now an ambassador and needs to go back home and talk about it and try and protect it because you know, climate change is affecting all of these birds and I think in the last few years it's made the news how badly climate change has been affecting like penguin breeding and things like that. The numbers are really, really dropping.
And I think to me, At 13 years old, that really resonated and it was like, God, you know what? This isn't just like this holiday that I'm incredibly lucky to be on. This could be bigger than that, I guess. I don’t know, a lot of the time when I think about climate change, I do just think about watching all this ice sort of dripping into the sea and all of the areas that should have been covered with snow that weren't, and things like that. And it's just, I dunno, it was just very impactful on me.
Alok Jha (14.45): Can you identify that as the moment or the culmination of thinking about the environment and where you've got to now with it, which is to campaign and bring attention to environmental loss?
Mya-Rose Craig (14.57 Yeah. I think like there have been many moments over the years and I do credit the start of my environmental activism when I was 11 to just having this love of birds and nature in the first place.
And I think this trip to Antarctica plays a particularly interesting role, I guess in my head in that, about a year and a half ago, I was lucky enough to go with Greenpeace to the Arctic on a campaigning expedition, and it was just the contrast between those two clips that really, I guess, plays on my mind because you know, the only wildlife we saw was like had plastic wrapped around it and things like that, and we could hear the glaciers like crashing into the sea, and it was just, for me, that trip to the Arctic was like climate change in motion basically. And so I think the fact that, at a much younger age, I was able to see, I suppose, another version of that I think, yeah, it must have had a big impact on me.
Alok Jha (15.54): I mean, you've been a prominent activist for many years now, and your charity, Black to Nature that you set up is all about, you know, engaging different communities in this struggle to sort of bring awareness. Do you think that certain communities, certain groups of people are not involved as much as they could or not being allowed to be involved as much as they could when it comes to talking about things like climate change and habitat loss and all these things?
Mya-Rose Craig (16.16): Yeah, absolutely. I think especially, you know, in the UK and other countries like it, I think environmentalism is still seen as a very white-centric thing basically. I talk to people in black and Asian communities and they feel that it's a space where their voice isn't needed, isn't heard, and they're not that interested in engaging with it sometimes, and I think there are various things to unpack within that.
There's a lot of systemic racism involved in environmentalism, but I think one of the things about climate change is just how interconnected it all is. And I think it's so strange to be on what is essentially the edge of the world somewhere like Antarctica and to watch bits of snow going into the sea or bits of ice and think, you know, on the other side of the world, someone's home is getting flooded and people are dying. I think in some ways climate change is a very big thing for the human brain to like truly understand. But I think it's when you talk to people and you make climate change very real is – that's when people engage with it. Cause I think it's always talked about like this distant, far off thing, but you know, it's not in the future and it's not necessarily far away.
We're feeling the impacts of climate change in the UK now. With the various cold snaps and heat waves and flooding. And so I think bringing it closer to home is really how you engage with people.
Alok Jha (17.41): You mentioned just now that you think that certain communities don't feel like their voices are needed or wanted. Can you just unpack that for me a little bit? I mean, have you spoken to friends and colleagues and others who either aren't interested in talking about climate change or have tried to talk about it with people and they're not listened to or their points of view are not taking on board? I mean, just where do you think the sort of frictions are?
Mya-Rose Craig (18.03): Yeah, totally. I think there's a few different ways in which it manifests. And I guess for context, like you said, I have my charity Black to Nature, and I've worked with a lot of people from various communities for six, nearly seven years now. So we've had a lot of these conversations and there's a few different things.
I think for a lot of people – when they don't understand what I was talking about, the way that climate change can be brought closer to home. I think for a lot of people, environmental issues are sort of seen as the thing that people talk about when they've got nothing else to worry about. You know, when they're not worrying about getting food on the table or getting money enough to pay your rent or to, you know, make sure your kid's education is going – you know, like it's seen as what you are able to do when you've already got everything else sorted.
And I think there's maybe not an understanding, which is fair enough, of how like environmental issues totally tie into class issues, gender issues, race issues. Which is why I guess having these conversations feels so important. And I think also, for a lot of people, especially maybe older generations, there's maybe not an understanding that things are climate change.
So to use my own family as an example. My family's from Bangladesh, which is obviously a country really severely affected by flooding, homes being swept away, drought, crops dying, but not many people would say that was climate change or really maybe understand that that's climate change. And so I think building that understanding is how you get people to engage with these issues and to make it very real.
Cause it's not that people don't care, I think it is just that maybe people don't fully understand.
Alok Jha (19.38): Yeah, and connecting the individual extreme weather events or crop failures or any of those things to this larger, broader trend is incredibly important ‘cause it allows people to sort of, well, it empowers people to sort of think about the future for themselves a little bit more as well. And maybe enact policies or campaign for policies which help them.
I mean, it's ironic that – you raise a very good point that actually in conversations, especially in the UK and in the West, sometimes certain voices are marginalised, but it is the black and brown people around the world who are mainly gonna be affected by the worst effects of climate change in the next 20 or 30 years.
Or they're, they're already happening, in fact, in lots of parts of the world where, you know, food is becoming scarce or, you know, the sea levels are rising or all of those things – or there's migration happening in huge levels. Various people have written about this, where in the next century you'll see enormous migrations because you just can't grow crops in certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa or wherever else. That's coming, isn't it? And I think they're making people aware of climate change as the driving factor is incredibly important.
Mya-Rose Craig (20.44): I think for a lot of people when you say climate change, they still think of a polar bear floating away on an ice flow, not people. I think there's maybe not an understanding that this really is a human issue as well as a nature-based one, and that they're totally linked together.
Camilla Nichol (21.00) Hello, I'm Camilla Nichol, Chief Executive of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. We work to preserve and protect Antarctica's unique heritage: from the historic huts of early pioneers to the amazing discoveries in climate science. Our mission is to inspire current and future generations to discover, value and protect this precious wilderness.
Every year, our specialist conservation teams head south to Antarctica to conserve and protect our historic huts. With your generosity, we can preserve these amazing sites and bring to life the many fascinating stories they have to tell. Find out how you can help save Antarctica, protect our planet, and even adopt a penguin at ukaht.org or search for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Thank you. Enjoy the rest of the show.
Joanna Lumley: Antarctica: the coldest, driest, and windiest place on earth where the penguins outnumber the people, there are only two seasons and no time zones. Discover this vast, breathtaking, frozen continent on a Hurtigruten Expeditions cruise. It's an adventure like no other. Explore the landscape. Get closer to nature and learn more than you'd expect with our knowledgeable Hurtigruten Expeditions team. Search ‘Follow your Curiosity’ to book now.
Alok Jha (22.23): Can I take it back to the birds? When it comes to climate change and habitat change and all of this – what do you see is happening to the habitats of birds and the lives of birds, the numbers of birds in the world because of things like climate change? We know that species are dying out all over the world, the number of species are reducing – the songbirds in England have disappeared pretty much in many respects. What's the story there with the changing environment and birds?
Mya-Rose Craig (22.50): Our birds are struggling, basically, really struggling, both in the UK and around the world. I already mentioned, you know, penguin populations really struggling in Antarctica, cause of the heat and things like that. I've seen so many examples of deforestation where birds literally just don't have anywhere to live anymore. Migration's getting really messed up because of the changing weather patterns and things like that.
I think in the UK in part, like, I think what a lot of people don't realise is how bad our biodiversity is. In the UK we're one of the worst countries in the world in terms of biodiversity, despite I think a lot of people taking a lot of pride in what they would consider the British countryside.
But you know, even spaces such as farmland, which used to be incredibly important for bird species. It's just not nature friendly anymore. And I think the thing with climate change again, that maybe a lot of people don't realise is that climate change and biodiversity loss are basically two sides of the same coin. To solve one, you need to solve the other and vice versa. And so us running out of habitat, us running out of species is both another cause and another symptom of climate change.
And I think birds in particular are a really good way to monitor that just ‘cause they're a really visible part of nature. I think everyone has seen birds, whether it's, you know, pigeons and gulls or the common garden species. And people notice when they start disappearing: talking to someone, a generation or two older than me, they can tell all sorts of stories about how like Starlings used to be really common or how the birds used to sing all the time and now they don’t. And so I think it's a very easy marker to maybe understand the scale of loss that we've gone through.
Alok Jha (24:36): That's a really good argument for why monitoring and understanding the health of the bird population in the UK or beyond is a really good thing. But in a more philosophical sense, why do you think having as many species of birds as possible is a good thing? I mean, I feel like I know the answer to this question, but I'd like to hear you talk about it.
Mya-Rose Craig (24.56): I guess there's two answers. I guess the practical one first is you need loads of species to have a functioning biosphere, to have nature and an outdoors that functions and thrives and all works together and all that sort of thing.
But I think on a more personal level, I love nature and I love the beauty of nature, and I love the diversity of nature, and I think, you know, even using the example of like pigeons in the city. I think if pigeons were a really, really rare bird that you had to go into the depths of, you know, the wilderness to find, people would think that they're really beautiful, but because they're everywhere and there's you know, you see them all the time, I think people kind of don't see the beauty of nature, I guess.
And I just love all the different birds that I've seen so far, and I love to have the opportunity to see many, many more, which is, you know, increasingly difficult as lots of birds species disappear. So yeah, on a personal level, I just love nature and I think it's tragic that things are dying because of us and our behaviours and over=consumption and over-emissions and all that sort of thing.
Alok Jha (26.01): You talked about how you got into birding. I mean, it almost feels like you were born with it, to be honest – you didn't get into it, I'm not sure how much choice you actually had. But how do you try and encourage friends, colleagues, younger people – I mean, do you have birding groups that you sort of take out and encourage them to see what's going on? I mean, even in cities now, you can see birding groups and things in a places where you wouldn't normally expect there to be a huge amount of diversity.
Mya-Rose Craig (26.25): Yeah, so part of the Black Nature Project is that we run a lot of days out and nature weekend camps and things like that, where we're working with primary school kids, teenagers, essentially to give them that opportunity to experience nature for the first time. A lot of them have never left the city before, and it may be biased but we do a lot of bird watching on those. Partially, you know, cause I love birds. But I think partially, like I mentioned before, I think birds are such a good access point to nature as a whole because they're everywhere and they're kind of not that hard to see. I feel like if you sit anywhere with a few trees for a bit, you'll see at least one bird and they are very beautiful when you start to look. So we do a lot of bird watching with a lot of these kids, but a lot of other nature activities as well.
And, you know, there's so many reasons why this project is really important to me.I think, again, on a personal level, just as someone who loves nature in the outdoors, it always just felt so tragic that other kids weren't getting those opportunities to connect with nature. I think I've had a lot of experience seeing just how important nature and green spaces are for our brains, for our mental health to be able to function. And considering, you know, black and Asian communities are really disproportionately affected by mental illness in the UK, a lot of what we're trying to do is give these kids the tools to, you know, in the future, manage their own mental health. Even if it's as simple as like when you are sad or angry or upset, go and sit in a park for half an hour or go on a walk. But I think the third bit of it is, like we mentioned before, creating this love of nature and the outdoors so that people understand what we are losing and care that we're losing these things, and maybe try and do something about it.
Alok Jha (28.12) It's interesting to hear you talking about the mental health parts actually, because I think a lot of people would feel that going out into nature is a good way to clear your head and be mindful even if you're not into things like meditation or any of that other stuff. And there's lots of scientific evidence to show that actually being in nature is good for you. I mean, it is being out in nature for you, something similar, does it sort of take you to a different place in terms of your mental health?
Mya-Rose Craig (28.36): Oh God, absolutely. Yeah, and I have literally said before that like, I'm rubbish at mindfulness and things like that and what I do instead is bird watching cause it's still very active.
But I think there is just something very peaceful about being outdoors and being surrounded by nature. For me personally, I feel like I can very actively feel like the positive benefits of that. The NHS has started doing things like green prescribing. There has been very explicit medical acknowledgement of just how important it is to spend that time outdoors.
But yeah, for me personally, I think I'm very aware that if I feel a bit rubbish, like going on a walk, going to go find some birds somewhere will probably do me some good.
Alok Jha (29.19): Talking back about Antarctica, ‘cause obviously that's the focus of our series here. Bringing us back to there, tell me about your thoughts on why it's important that younger people engage with Antarctica and the things that are happening there? You've talked about why you are interested in it, and the effects of climate change and why you're interested in that too. You've obviously done a lot of work bringing awareness to these things, but I'm just curious why you would encourage people to think more about these sort of very far away places that exist on our planet?
Mya-Rose Craig (29.49) I think we're so lucky to live on a planet that has all of the biodiversity that it does, all of the different species, all of the different places. And for me personally, some of my favourites are what could be considered these very bleak, far away places ‘cause they're just so special, both landscape-wise and in terms of the nature that's developed there.
And I think in some ways those are the most fragile bits of our planet and the ones that we need to care for the most delicately, ‘cause it's so easy to lose them. And so I think just – it's an extension of this wider caring for the planet, you know, not just caring about what's on your front doorstep, but caring for the earth as a whole, I suppose, including places like Antarctica, which are very beautiful, but many people acknowledge that they wouldn't probably ever be lucky enough to visit.
Alok Jha (30.42) Do you have plans to go back ever? Would you like to?
Mya-Rose Craig (30:46): Oh, oh, obviously I'd love to. I think when I went, I went with the knowledge that was probably a once in a lifetime experience, but I was very young and I obviously, if I had the opportunity, would love to go again. I’d love to go and see some adult and prop penguins back home in the Antarctic circle or something like that.
But I guess all of that, Sort of hinges on Anatarctica still doing well, still thriving in 10, 20, 30 years time.
Alok Jha (31.12) I suppose next time you can go, you wouldn't worry so much about your fingers and toes, you'd just take the right sort of technical fabrics and gloves and all of that. lot, hand warmers. You wouldn't worry about that –
Mya-Rose Craig I would –
Alok Jha: jjust take lots of notebooks to write down that what you see
Mya-Rose Craig (31.24): Exactly. But I think the one thing I wouldn't learn my lesson about, I'd probably still take thousands and thousands of photos of penguins.
Alok Jha (31.30): I don't think anyone's gonna complain about that. Now, I just wonder, you know, if you could take only one thing with you to Antarctica on your next expedition, what would it be?
Mya-Rose Craig (31.39): I think… actually, I was gonna say a camera, because I think I spent so much of my last trip just really desperately trying to, and failing to capture sort of the Antarctic landscape. But I was a bit rubbish at that. I think actually I’d just take a pair of binoculars and try and see as many birds as I could.
Alok Jha (31:58): And just a final question, which we've asked all of our guests: why does Antarctica matter to you?
Mya-Rose Craig (32.05) Antarctica is such a special place in so many different ways that I've already mentioned: the beautiful landscape, the amazing wildlife, but I think also there's something so special about somewhere that still feels so untouched and unshaped by humans. I think especially as someone who comes from the UK where there is literally not an inch of this country that hasn't been shaped by people for thousands of years, I think to go somewhere that is just completely natural and wild is so special and so rare. So I think that, and also the fact that I'm a really big fan of penguins.
Alok Jha Mya-Rose, thank you so much for your time.
Mya-Rose Craig No, thank you so much for having me.
Thank you very much for listening. A Voyage to Antarctica is brought to you by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, and made possible by support from Hurtigruten Expeditions. To find out more about our guests and how you can support the trust, please head to our website, www.ukaht.org, or to our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.
If you enjoyed this episode, please don't forget to follow and rate us wherever you get your podcasts. It makes a huge difference.
Next time, Marine Biologist Dr Huw Griffiths will take us through the weird & wonderful life that is being discovered underwater in Antarctica; teaching us incredible things about our planet’s deep past, and even revealing some secrets of the universe.
This podcast is part of the Trust’s Antarctica In Sight Programme, supported by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and charitable gifts and donations.
A Voyage to Antarctica was presented by me, Alok Jha. Music is by Alec Hewes, and editing by James Stickland. The show is produced by Jessica Norman.
See you next time.