Laguna Esmeralda/ Beagle Channel (54° 48′ S / 68° 18′ W)

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Today was our last day in Tierra del Fuego before getting on board M/V Ushuaia and setting off for Antarctica. After an early breakfast we boarded a bus and were driven inland through the mountains surrounding Ushuaia. After a forty minute drive we started a hike across bog land littered with elaborately constructed beaver dams and the occasional beaver lodge. North America beaver (Castor canadensis) were introduced to Tierra del Fuego in the 1940s to create a valuable resource for fur trade and stimulate the local economy. The trade never took off as Tierra del Fuego beaver pelts are of poor quality due to the lack of long cold winters that would stimulate thick fur growth. The beavers, however, multiplied as they lacked natural predators, and are now a pest that proves difficult (if not impossible) to remove. Despite their destructive force their elaborate dams encompassing several terraced levels were certainly impressive. We then hiked uphill and into a valley carved out by glacier forces and with beautiful emerald lake: Laguna Esmeralda. Some of us took a quick (and rather refreshing) dip. After a picnic lunch we hiked back down the mountain, and travelled back to Ushuaia where we finally boarded our vessel. Lines were soon cast off and we headed down the Beagle Channel. Some of us spotted the first penguins (Magellanic, Spheniscus magallanicus) of the trip. Once we settled in and unpacked our luggage we had a short safety briefing. Followed by this was an evacuation drill where we got to climb into the vessel’s covered life boats (cramped but fun). Just before dinner the ship stopped, then turned back towards Ushuaia. One of the crew members had fallen and broken her arm, and needed to be disembarked. We are now back on track, travelling East along the Beagle Channel towards the famous Drake Passage, under a moonlit sky and a clear view of the Southern Cross.

Chris (MRes MMS)

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