Four SAEF Women Set Sail for Antarctica with Homeward Bound

On 12 November, four SAEF women will set sail for Antarctica as participants in Homeward Bound, a global leadership initiative that aims to create influential leaders for a more sustainable future.

The group includes both research and professional staff, including, Distinguished Professor Sharon Robinson, Deputy Director of Science Implementation; Ms Jodie Weller, Program Manager; Associate Professor Kate Helmstedt, Stewardship Theme Lead; and Dr Diana King, Deputy Program Manager. 

They will depart Puerto Madryn, Argentina for a 20-day voyage on board The Island Sky to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Peninsula. While at sea they will participate in a leadership program that aims to increase the influence of women in making decisions that shape the future of our planet. 

Kate has just stepped up into the role of Theme Lead for SAEF’s Supporting Environmental Stewardship theme. After modelling Antarctic ecosystems for many years without ever having witnessed them, she is excited not only by the opportunity to see the immense scale of Antarctic ice but also the chance to develop skills to help ensure it remains that way.  

“In science, I don’t think we are given enough credit for how difficult strategic leadership is. The ability to develop and execute big visions is a learned skill. The leadership development in Homeward Bound will enable me to build and nurture teams who can have a larger impact on sustainable environmental futures.” 

Not every Antarctic scientist has the opportunity to travel to the region. Diana is disabled and uses a wheelchair, and when she did her PhD with Sharon she was not able to take up opportunities to participate in Antarctic fieldwork. However, after a career spent helping scientists plan and prepare for trips south, Homeward Bound is finally enabling her to visit the continent. 

“Antarctica is generally quite an inaccessible place for disabled people, so it is an incredible opportunity for me to be able to visit and see it in person! I hope to utilise my experience on this journey to help raise awareness of the issues around diversity and inclusion in Antarctic science.”

Sharon became involved in Homeward Bound as a member of the faculty in the role of Science Lead in 2018. In this role, she shares the latest science from the region and will lead the tours ashore. 

“What I love about the program is that it brings together women in STEM from all over the world in support of a common purpose for the betterment of the planet.”

“Each year we host a Symposium at Sea, where each woman has 3 minutes to share their story. It is incredibly inspiring and prompts every emotion, leaving you with a sense of hope and possibility that we are all working together for the greater good.”

While she is excited about the voyage, Sharon also says she is feeling a sense of trepidation. H5N1 Avian Flu has reached colonies in the Antarctic Peninsula and she is concerned they may witness impacted penguins, seals and other wildlife. Part of her role as Science Lead will be to explain the effects and impact of bird flu to participants and help ensure their planned activities ashore are managed in a way that prevents any further spread. As a climate change biologist she is also concerned about the record low levels of sea ice this year.

The region is facing many challenges, and the voyage will be an opportunity for women from all over the world, with many decades of experience to further develop the skill set to address them.

“I am most excited about having three weeks to network with and learn from an international group of fantastically ambitious, like-minded women with backgrounds in STEMM, all with the goal of transformational leadership to create a sustainable future,” says Diana. 

Dr Jasmine Lee, a SAEF Associate Investigator is taking part in The Ushuaia voyage which departed Argentina on 3 November and Georgia Watson, a Research Assistant at the University of Wollongong is part of the Homeward Bound 8 cohort currently completing their 12-month leadership program before voyaging to Antarctica in the 2024/25 season. 

For more information visit: https://homewardboundprojects.com.au/the-island-sky-voyage-2023/