Penguin posting: British charity seeks applicants for Antarctic base

Farah Javed, Managing Editor

The U.K. Antarctic Heritage Trust is seeking applicants to work for five months at its flagship base in Port Lockroy, Antarctica, counting gentoo penguins. While the British charity ordinarily advertises annually for these seasonal workers, this is the first time since 2019 that the base will be open to the public.

The trust focuses on protecting artifacts and historic buildings in Antarctica and uses its outreach programs to educate the public.

Base A, Port Lockroy, is located on Goudier Island and after its construction in February 1944, became the “first British base to be established on the Antarctic Peninsula,” according to the charity.

After World War II, it served as a science base for the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, which is the predecessor to today’s British Antarctic Survey, the U.K.’s national polar research institute.

If selected, employees will count gentoo penguins and other wildlife for the British Antarctic Survey from November 2022 to March 2023. While this may sound like a dream job, there are a few points to be wary of.

First, the charity is unable to sponsor visas, so a prospective candidate must prove their right to work in the United Kingdom.

Second, the trust’s Occupational Health Team must deem an individual physically fit and requires prospective candidates to provide their medical information.

Third, the charity receives hundreds of applications, but it is currently hiring only three to four people to join its Port Lockroy base to fill the positions of base leader, shop manager and general assistant. The latter two roles will work at the base’s gift shop and post office on behalf of the British Antarctic Territory government.

The post office is the most remote in the world and receives 80,000 pieces of mail each season. Hired applicants will also care for artifacts like a 1944 radio transmitter in Bransfield House, the main building of Base A.

The U.K. Antarctic Heritage Trust application explains that water, heat, power and communications will be limited at the base.

The island lacks running water, so there are no showers or flushing toilets. Instead, employees rely on visiting ships to provide water, which can produce wait times ranging from every few days to weeks.

Temperatures in Antarctic summers can rise to around 50 degrees Celsius, but winds can make for freezing workdays. To cook food, the base houses a propane gas cooker and heater in its kitchen and staff rotate cooking duties using canned or dried shipments of food from the U.K.

Electrical equipment is preferred since the base charges its batteries through solar power, meaning that selected candidates should use sonic toothbrushes at home.

But if anyone is looking to limit their social media usage, Port Lockroy is the perfect destination to start. The application states that, “Communication is primarily via satellite,” which means little communication with one’s home country.

There is no internet access, and since satellite phone calls are expensive, they are only used for emergencies. Employees primarily use work emails for “keeping in touch with HQ and coordinating ship visits and logistics onsite at Port Lockroy,” according to the application.

These living conditions may discourage people from applying, but Lauren Elliot, a 2019 postmaster for the trust, called it “the most magical place in the world.”

“It was really exciting, we got to count all the penguins when they hatched. You have to do a lot of cleaning and there’s lots of penguin poo, which we call guano, but there’s never time to be bored – it’s a really interesting place,” Elliot said to the BBC.

“Our team still talks today and you’ll make friends for life. We were all so different, but all hard-working, flexible and had the ability to live with a small group of people. And most importantly, you need to be able to have fun and appreciate exactly where you are.”

Those selected will undergo training in October 2022, which includes a week of meetings with team members in Cambridge and learning first aid.

Applications for the U.K. Antarctic Heritage Trust will close at 11:59 p.m. U.K. time on April 25.