Welcome to Brash Talk #16, the Newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association.
In This Issue:
- Letter from the Chair
- Social Justice Statement
- Fee Assistance
- RCC Reviews
- Experience Log
- Speaker Series: Links to Archives
- New Board Members – Kim Crosbie and Marcus Waters
- Training and Development: Improvised Body Harness Tutorial & PECS
- Guano Happens: Safety and Risk Management
- Member Interview: Doug Gould
Letter from the Chair
Dear Guides & Members
The last few months have been unprecedented in many ways, with Covid-19 affecting the lives and livelihoods of many of us. The travel industry has been hit particularly hard, of course, and the near-term future is still uncertain. As we continue to prioritize our health and well-being at home, a silver lining might be having time to focus on enrichment and strengthening our own community.
Over the past three months PTGA has hosted a series of online forums designed to bring our community together. It has been heartening to see so many of our veteran colleagues stepping up to share their hard-earned experience, perspectives and insight. And while it’s easy to be proud of the staff and volunteers that brought everyone together, mostly I am thankful. Thankful for everyone’s passion for our unique profession. Thankful for the demonstration of support for each other. Thankful for the community we share across company borders.
Recently, PTGA held its Annual General Meeting and I’d like to share a few things with you regarding the current direction of our organization. We’ve experienced enormous growth in the past year. The surge in assessments seems to reflect a growing awareness in the industry that measurement of minimum competency for all is necessary. This evolution has led us toward a restructure at PTGA’s leadership level. We’ve brought on new board members and created a Chair position to help liaise between the board and executive team.
Two important initiatives are being implemented that will directly impact you, the guides. Though PTGA itself is not a training organization, we are looking to develop additional strategic partnerships with polar operators and academies that can provide training services as well as assess guides to PTGA’s performance standards. Secondly, we aim to further increase member benefits, adding more value to your membership, as demonstrated by the recent Polar Panel Sessions online.
No one knows what the travel industry will look like when the pandemic acquiesces. I imagine there will be more tough times ahead, but they will be fueled by hope. One thing I do know is that polar bears and penguins are part of this future.
In the meantime, stay safe and stay cool.
In light of the demonstrations regarding social injustice currently taking place in the United States, we at PTGA feel compelled to speak up in support of the black community, indigenous populations, and people of color. We recognize that these groups are severely underrepresented in the polar guiding industry.
We are taking time to listen, learn and reflect, in acknowledgement that more can be done to help people overcome barriers related to wealth, opportunity, and privilege within the guiding industry.
We are committing to exploring ways the PTGA can create better access for aspiring guides and polar professionals from these communities. If you’d like to contribute ideas on how the PTGA, as a standards & assessment organization, could do this, we’d love to hear from you.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
With the Covid-19 pandemic continuing its spread across the world, and with most operators halted for the Arctic season, we are aware many guides and PTGA members are facing hardships, even having to look for work in other industries. We offer our condolences to each of our members affected.
In light of the current pandemic, PTGA is offering several ways to assist with any financial strain for guides and members who are unable to work. Remember that recognition of awards and status with PTGA relies on you being a current financial member. If you are experiencing financial hardship, please be in touch via email at email@example.com.
1. Member fee deferral – If you are experiencing financial hardship this year and wish to pay later, we can defer your 2020 fee until early 2021 and you can pay then.
2. Member fee partial payments – If paying regular, smaller amounts is a better option for you please get in touch and discuss with us.
3. Membership on hold – If you are taking a long-term break from guiding or direct industry involvement then you may put your qualifications ‘on hold’ until you require them in future. This is regularly available to any member, however it comes with caveats. Qualifications can be put on hold for a maximum of four years from the date you sat your assessments or last revalidated. When on hold, your qualifications and status are no longer acknowledged, not can you advertise your status. When you rejoin the industry and PTGA, you will have to provide a strong portfolio of evidence to prove your continued currency. An Assessor will need to acknowledge overall competence in the workplace and identify any specific deficits which may need formal testing.
4. Assessor fee reduction – PTGA is offering Assessors a fee reduction to that of normal membership. This is happening automatically, across the board for all assessors, and there is no need to contact us. Since there is no assessing going on currently (and most likely until 2021), we feel this is only fair.
Recognition of Current Competency Reviews
We received over 100 applications in this round of RCC. Our review team is working hard to process all applications as fast as possible, with over half of the applications processed so far. We appreciate your patience as we give our full attention to all applications. If you have urgent requirements please be in touch.
Don’t forget to take a few minutes in your free time to grab a coffee or glass of wine and update your Experience Log. Download Your Log Here
Over the past three months, PTGA has hosted informal online presentations in collaboration with many of the polar industry’s esteemed veterans. Over 200 people attended each session and it is heartening to see so much enthusiasm from all corners of the industry, and across company borders. We hope you have enjoyed engaging with industry veterans and connecting with peers during these enrichment opportunities.
Enormous thanks to each of our panelists, speakers and moderators for sharing their perspectives, advice and expertise. We’d like to especially acknowledge Lauren Farmer for her vision and dedication in managing these programs. If you missed any of the presentations, they are now available to access via online archives.
Archives: Guide’s Inside Series
Visit the Polar Guides Facebook Group to Access the Series, or find them directly using the links below:
Group Management in Polar Bear Country with Alex Cowan
SAR Helicopter Operations with Rupert Krapp
Leading a Walk in a New Place with Heidi Krajewsky
Interpretation with Universal Themes with Dave Ritchie
Kayak Program Styles with Sophie Ballagh & Ewan Blyth
Incorporating Conservation Topics with Colby Brokvist
Archives: Polar Panel Sessions
Visit the PTGA Website to View the Panel Sessions (PTGA members only)
Polar Industry Then & Now
with Susan Adie, Kim Crosbie, John McKeon, Bill Davis, Tom Ritchie
Polar Bears & Tourism
with Rinie Van Meurs, Ian Stirling, Nikita Ovsyanikov, Rupert Krapp
The Expedition Profession
with Tudor Morgan, Mariano Curiel, Kit Van Wagner, Lisa Kelly
Sustainability & Stewardship
with Ron Naveen, Melissa Nacke, Court Whelan, Laura Smith
(Live on June 30, Visit Polar Guides Group for More Info)
Leadership, Membership and Situational Management
(Live on July 16, Panel yet to be confirmed.
Check Polar Guides Group for Updates)
New PTGA Board Members
We are pleased to announce the addition of two new members of PTGA’s Board of Directors. Welcome to Kim Crosbie and Marcus Waters.
Kim Crosbie is a well known and respected figure in the Polar Tourism Industry and has been working in the polar regions since 1991. Firstly, through the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge researching visitor management in the Canadian Arctic before changing focus to Antarctica. She spent three summers camping on Cuverville Is on the Antarctic Peninsula undertaking ecological monitoring and management of the landing site gathering baseline data for her PhD which, subsequently, was also used in the development of Site Guidelines for visitor landing sites in the Arctic, Antarctic and sub-Antarctic.
Dovetailing with her research, Kim worked as a guide and expedition leader in both polar regions for fifteen years for both tourist and film operations. She then moved “ashore” to spend 12 years with the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, as environmental director and subsequently executive director, working on the strategic development of Antarctic tourism management to support safe and environmentally responsible tourism.
Kim now Chairs the Boards of Noble Caledonia and Salén Ship Management and is a Trustee for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and the Noble Caledonia Charitable Trust. She remains passionate about both the polar regions and in ensuring field guides are well equipped to fulfil their critical role in managing responsible visitor activities and ensuring first class experiences so that travellers to these regions return home as vocal supporters of these unique environments.
Marcus Waters brings a valuable mix of business and strategy skills to the PTGA Board combined with a full understanding of the PTGA Assessment model. He has current involvement in the polar industry as the General Manager Commercial and Partnerships with the Antarctic Heritage Trust based in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Marcus’ early career was in outdoor education. With a passionate interest in human development this morphed into Management Training which lead to an MBA. Since then Marcus has spent the last twenty years in the Human Resource and Organisation Development industry. He has been an executive leader for large NZ businesses responsible for formulating business and HR strategy and operated in the safety sensitive Civil Construction and Electrical industries. He brings critical Board procedural experience and also currently sits on the Human Resources NZ Board (a 3000 person membership organisation) and is a Member of NZ’s Institute of Directors.
Marcus took over his current role with the Antarctic Heritage Trust in 2019 to create focused strategy and help grow and develop income streams. He has sea kayaked the length of the Antarctic Peninsula, circumnavigated Sth Georgia by sea kayak (see the display in Grytviken museum) and dragged a sled across Greenland. Marcus has a love for wild and polar places and could see the value of the governance skills he could offer the PTGA at this stage of development. Marcus is a keen skier and tramper and with his family gets out at every possible opportunity in the Canterbury back-country.
Training and Knowledge
Here is a handy Body Harness Lesson for those of you that might work at this end of the spectrum.
Eric Phillips et al have been working on a Polar Expeditions Classification Scheme (PECS) for expeditioneers. For those of you interested or involved in this type of activity, and involved in discussions about what constitutes an unsupported journey or a solo journey, this new PECS will be the resource to refer to. For broader context, refer to the PECS guidelines.
Safety & Risk Management Review
The story below was shared with us, describing how a near-miss unfolded during a zodiac operation. This incident reminds us that the polar environment is fickle and what you see is not always what you get. While we all want to provide our guests with a memorable experience, it’s not worth risking anyone’s personal safety.
It also reaffirms the need for well-trained, experienced and competent leaders who allow a psychologically safe space where team members can question decisions that are being made.
This episode occurred during a zodiac operation from a small ship. We were at Spert Island in the Antarctic Peninsula and there was a planned zodiac cruising operation for two rounds of six groups. There is usually a good swell there, as was the case on this day, and proximity to the rocky shoreline requires vigilance, but the conditions were suitable for cruising. The plan was for the six boats to generally stick together and always be visible to at least one other craft, however there was no designated leader; we were going out to explore.
This was my first time to the site and I was relying on the others to show me around. First, we entered the tight passages that the area is renowned for, losing visibility and comms to the ship as we transited from the south to the north side of the island group. After exiting the passages, the lead zodiac turned into a narrow cove containing three large icebergs, exposed to the swell. The interior of the cove is characterized by a very steep amphitheater-like wall that plunge directly into the sea. Seals could be seen on the far end and drew the attention of the lead zodiac. One after another each of the zodiacs entered the cove. I was fifth in line and hesitated. I recognized the potential hazard from the three icebergs; if one was to roll, we’d quickly be met with waves pushing us toward the rock walls. I signaled to the driver behind me, indicating that I was uneasy. A shoulder shrug was the response. I reluctantly continued, thinking perhaps we just need to quickly pass the bergs and then it would open up. After several minutes within the cove, the lead zodiac turned to the icebergs and steered right into the middle of the three. It turns out that the only way out of the cove was either doubling-back or passing between the icebergs. Again, the string of zodiacs followed. I turned a corner to see what was transpiring. Not only did I not like the icy passage, but to my surprise, two of the boats had stopped to admire the bergs, floating between them. The boats were six meters away and each of the icebergs was ten meters tall or more. I powered up and turned out of there and continued to a significant distance away. Two other zodiacs did the same. One remained floating in the middle and offered pictures to guests. After a few minutes, all the boats were safely away from the icebergs.
Flash-forward to the second round of cruising, about an hour and a half later. Again, all six zodiacs were in line and as we approached the same cove for the second time, we were met with lots of brash ice. Turning the corner, we could see that the entire amphitheater now contained ice and it was basically unnavigable. The three huge icebergs had all rolled since we had left them just over an hour ago, and one had broken up. Had that happened during the earlier cruise it most certainly would have been a catastrophe.
Key Causal Factors and Heuristics
- Risk shift
- Expert Halo heuristic
- Social Facilitation heuristic
The critical balance point between near miss and tragedy was simply lucky timing. The real risk posed by the three large icebergs was significant. One or even several zodiacs were exposed to that risk at any given time. The swell and tight geography of the cove, combined with steep rock walls would have further complicated a Man Overboard (MOB) situation. Furthermore, there were no direct comms to the ship and it was a significant distance away.
This is a very complex but common scenario for group based excursions into terrain/areas that can change character at an unknowable time but when they do it happens in an instant. The nature of this particular scenario was very much like a group of skiers in avalanche terrain so we will review it using some common tools and concepts from that industry.
The biggest factor involved here is what’s called Risk Shift. It is a known and studied social aspect of risk taking which states that a group will make riskier decisions than the individuals that comprise that group. You can see in this narrative the contributer felt uncomfortable with a lot of the excursion but went along because the group was all doing it and there was no organized channel of communication to break this flow of action. The accountability for the risk had ‘shifted’ to the group in the absence of a leader, hence the term Risk Shift. Put this in your guide tool box, understand it, be able to identify it so you can say something about it, and know it is natural to want to follow the group and to feel pressure to perform like your peers. However, if poor choices are being made, then you must fall back on your own level of comfort. That may mean prioritizing the safety of your guests and taking action that is personally acceptable to you.
It is clear there was some familiarity trap involved and (author of this analysis) have seen exactly the same scenario played out in the same place. Familiarity was the sole driver of the rationale as to why we were doing this. Clearly this won’t sit well with a coroner when the berg does collapse, one day when someone is in there.
There is no indication in the narrative but we might assume at some stage that a lead driver or someone had decided this was an acceptable idea given the circumstances. Be aware of the Expert Halo heuristic where someone with expertise (perceived, real or false) may make a decision and others will simply follow without active participation or ability to participate because of environmental conditions or the perception that this person ‘knows’ what is going on. It is similar to Risk Shift but to an individual instead of a group. One way to avoid this is to build into your expedition team culture an agreement to discuss with your fellow guides or zodiac drivers to come up with a shared and accepted understanding of what the purpose of the excursion is. Had the drivers got together on the water and had a quick chat some of these concerns that the driver was internalizing may have come out then with acknowledgment of ‘transition’. In this case, moving from open water to a confined space with increased risk exposure. This transition might have been a good place to pause, regroup, and check quickly to see that the shared plan is still agreed and has anything changed.
Regardless of how these particular situation turned out, the hope would be that there was an effective review of the excursion after the fact, examining concepts and decisions (not personalities) so that the expedition team might learn from what happened and be better as a team next time. Safety or risk management depends upon the ability to be safe (training/education), the opportunity to be safe (technology), and most importantly the desire to be safe (motivation). A key part of our job as professional guides is to make sure we have the knowledge, tools and support to be the best we can.
Thankfully, the incident described above was just a near-miss, and we can all learn something from it. If you have an incident or near-miss, you can share with us anonymously. Please phone us to talk.
Doug Gould, Senior Polar Guide
Doug made his first visit to Antarctica in late 2001, and in 2003 joined the group Oceanites Antarctic Site Inventory as a “penguin counter”, censusing wildlife at the tourist landings along the Antarctic Peninsula.
In 2011, Doug began working for G Adventures as a zodiac driver, weapons master, and photo instructor. Since 2014, Doug has been an expedition leader and certified photo instructor for Lindblad/National Geographic. In addition to the polar regions, Doug has worked in Alaska, Patagonia, the Mediterranean, Baja California, Central America, Australia, and Norway. Doug is a RYA Powerboat Instructor, USCG Licensed Master, NRA Rifle Instructor, FAA licensed drone pilot, and all-around enthusiast for travel.
We caught up with Doug after his wonderful work in moderating two of PTGA’s Polar Panel Sessions.
PTGA: You’ve been working in the polar regions for quite a while now. How did you get your start in tourism?
DG: I often say the path to working in the expedition world usually begins with small boats. When a company is faced with a last minute staff vacancy, they invariably need someone who can drive a Zodiac. That plus previous polar experience. I know so many guides who’s first trip to Antarctica was as a passenger (myself included!), and went on to find a way back to the ice. My first trip included meeting some folks from Oceanites, and I volunteered to help their work. When I got home, I called Ron Naveen and he offered my time as a penguin counter.
PTGA: Your work with penguins for Oceanites is fascinating. Would you share what that experience was like, and perhaps a lesson that you learned?
DG: Being a penguin counter was an amazing experience. At the time, there were more astronauts in the world than penguin counters. We were stationed on a Lindblad ship back then, but we didn’t work for Lindblad, nor were we guests. We were permitted by the NSF with a “take, enter & disturb” permit, allowing us to get in the middle of a penguin colony if we had to. We very rarely did that, and our goal was to avoid disturbing any wildlife at all times. I was trained by Wayne and Sue Trivelpiece, who have been researching penguins for more than 25 years. We were not bound by IAATO guidelines but did our best to live up to the spirit of them. I learned a few things along the way. Penguins are the toughest, most determined birds you’ll ever see. They get beat up on the rocks, pounded by waves and challenged by steep hills, but they get to that darn nest no matter what. If you need to walk inside a penguin colony, you have to spend a long time watching how penguins behave in there. There are rules, and they are strictly enforced most of the time. As humans, we can obey most of the rules, and they will tolerate your presence. I learned how to quiet a bunch of squawking gentoos even though I was in the middle of their colony. It’s actually kind of funny when you do it. We identify with them because humans and penguins are pretty much the only animals that always walk on two legs with their ankles directly above their shoulders.
PTGA: You have many external certifications that relate to polar guiding. Why did you also choose to become a certified Senior Polar Guide through PTGA?
DG: Great question. I think any profession deserves formal recognition and being a polar guide has certainly evolved into a full-blown profession. I’m proud to have the PTGA certification, because it is recognition by my peer group of my experience and competence.
PTGA: These days you work as an Expedition Leader aboard adventure cruising vessels. From an EL’s perspective, what does it mean to you when staff under your charge hold certifications in specific skills?
DG: Certificates can be very important and sometimes a legal requirement. For instance, to drive Zodiacs in the UK, you have to have an RYA Powerboat cert, and in the USA, you have to hold a USCG license. You can debate if that is silly or unnecessary, but it’s still the rule. Should new guides seek out certificates and skills bassessments? I would answer yes, but those really only open the doors to new work. Everyone has to earn their place on a team, especially if you are new company. A certificate will not camouflage lack of experience.
PTGA: Do you have a place in the polar regions that is extra special for you?
DG: To me the Gerlache Strait represents everything I love about the polar regions. It’s remote, yet just accessible enough that most people can experience Antarctica in its raw pristine state, filled with ice and wildlife.
PTGA: What’s your favorite polar animal and why?
DG: I have to say both penguins or polar bears. Each represents such a high degree of adaptation to the rawest, coldest places on the planet.
PTGA: Who’s your personal polar hero, and why?
DG: Jean-Baptist Charcot. Wine, cheese, fresh bread, hot baths and nobody died.
Thank you for passing all this along [RCC review], I am absolutely elated to have reached Guide Status with the PTGA and look forward to continuing to work and enrich myself and our guests in the field!!!
Graham and Sophie ~
Thank you so so very much for taking the time to review my RCC application, your comments were very thorough and helpful!! I sincerely appreciated the time and effort you put in and feel that this has been a wonderful learning and growing experience for me, I can’t wait to get back out in the field and pursue my career as a polar guide!
- PTGA Members – 421
- Senior Polar Guides – 162
- Polar Guides – 84
Karen Edwards, Neli Rabjohn, Corey Accardo, Mark Brophy, Patrick Demus, Steph Walker, Lezley Cadzow, Brandon Payne, Ffion Rees, Terence Christian, Nicholas Andrew, Katrina Pollard, Tom Remi Berg, Kat Kearsly, Samantha Mcbeth, John Blyth, Boomer Jerrit, Rex Nelson, Barbara Neubarth, Jared Hobbs, Paula Roberts, Ruth Peacy, Aymie Rioux.
Senior Polar Guide
Moira Le Patourel, Christian Engelke, Gerard Baker, Ryan Hope-Inglis, Harry Keys, Tara Mulvaney, Solan Jensen, Hayley Shepard, Ashley Perrin, Abbey Weisbrot, Michelle Sole, Rob McCallum, Stefano Tricanico, Marilou Delignieres, Francoise Gervais, Helen Ahern, Stefano Pozzi, Cecilie Manet, Jan Belgers, Gunilla Lindh, Claudio Ghiglione, Jaymie McCauley, Alexandre Deschene-Phillon, Brad Sivivour, Tim Soper, Catherine Buckland, Ethan Browne, Niki Trudeau, Lea McQullon, Michelle van Dijk, Daniel Johnston, Phil Hunter, Laurie DiVincenzo, Karolina Karas, Jeff Nagel. Suzana Machado D’Oliveira,
Completing Provisional Assessor requirements – Heidi Krajewsky, Pernille Soeegaard, Kit van Wagner