Durban — Keira King will be among a select few who will be in the vicinity of the geographic South Pole for a week as part of the “Matrics in Antarctica” programme beginning on Wednesday, December 6.
It is the initiative of Riaan Manser, a renowned South African explorer, and Professor Jonathan Jansen, and has become an annual event since 2020. It aims to inspire young people to raise awareness of climate change.
The Crawford International La Lucia pupil made the final five after various rounds of adjudication, which had hopefuls initially writing an essay, then producing a video on conservation-related matters.
The final cut came after an interview session by a panel that included Manser.
King, who has a great affinity for marine conservation, especially the well-being of the endangered African penguin and turtles, is “nervous but excited” about the voyage.
She can look forward to hiking through parts of Antarctica, helping with scientific experiments, assisting with the installation of solar panels at the base camp and cleaning up efforts.
“Cleaning up will be quite an experience because nobody lives there. It will be interesting to learn how the rest of the world impacts Antarctica’s ecosystem.”
The science experiments are what she’s most excited about.
“When I’m older, I see myself on the science side of conservation.”
Being a “Durban person” has brought some trepidation for King.
“Even when the temperature hits 18C, I wear warm clothes.”
In spite of Antarctica’s minus temperatures, being an adventurous type, King believes it’s something she will warm up to.
Like when she braved the cold waters during her Robben Island swim (7.5km) in 2022 and recently paddled 46km from Ballito to Durban on a prone paddleboard, measuring about 4 metres, for conservation charity drives.
King’s efforts have already raised thousands of rands.
Her swim was in aid of the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre’s bid to preserve the existence of the reptiles.
“It was an intense swim. The cold water was a worry but I did a few icebaths in preparation.”
King is also youth ambassador for the #NotOnOurWatch (NOOW) African penguin survival campaign, backed by the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation.
Predictions that African penguins may be extinct by 2035 have fuelled King’s desire to contribute.
She trained for three months on a prone board, which must be paddled by hand, for her trip from Salmon Bay in Ballito to uShaka pier, which lasted seven hours and 20 minutes.
Another #NOOW initiative was the worldwide waddle (penguin’s walk) on International African Penguin Awareness Day in October. King, dressed in a penguin suit, walked 5km with activists around Durban’s uShaka Marine World’s precinct.
Her love for the ocean is in her blood.
“My grandpa (Dennis) is an engineer, but is still heavily involved with the South African Association of Marine Biology.
“He loves diving and taking photos of fish in their habitat,” she said.
Dennis King is a prominent local underwater photographer, who has an angelfish species ‒apolemichthy kingi (tiger angelfish) named after him in recognition of his contribution to the study of marine life.
“My grandpa has had a big impact on my love for the ocean. Through snorkelling with him, I started to learn the names of fish. My dad (Vince) was also a big influence. He was a South African surfer in his youth,” she said.
“We’re so proud of Keira and her achievements. It was clear that she would be an excellent choice for the Antarctic adventure,” said Dr Judy Mann, president of the International Zoo Educators Association, executive of Strategic Projects at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, and a founder of the #NOOW campaign.
Independent on Saturday