Polar Memories: how it started

This month precisely twenty years ago, I received a message that would change my life. I was doing a small field project for my study biology. This was before the time that everybody had a cell phone, and as I stayed on site, I was out of reach for most people. At one point, the supervisor of that project came to me and said he knew a guy called Maarten was looking for somebody to join him to Spitsbergen and he was thinking of me. Now I had no clue who this Maarten guy was (apparently the lectures he had given me hadn’t made a major impact on me), and I barely knew where Spitsbergen was (somewhere cold and up north), but this sounded interesting. So I gave him a phone call (this was still the time when phones had lines attached to them) but got his answering machine. Now, this is a ridiculous name for this equipment, as I was full of questions, but got no answers from the machine.

Brandgans; Barnacle Goose; Branta leucopsis
Barnacle Geese, the reason I first came to Spitsbergen


I must have been really enthusiastic about the idea as I waited a full week before I gave it another try. Now I did manage to get hold of Maarten, who was extremely pleased to talk to me. Even though we had never really spoken before and I had just left a short message, he had already booked my flights the day before. Now it was time for those questions:

  • When do I have to go?
  • In about four weeks.
  • Oh, but then I’m still attending my last course at university!
  • That won’t be a problem, I already spoke to the teacher of that course and with a little extra work afterwards, you’ll still get full credits for the course.
  • Oh, that’s great! When will I come back?
  • At the end of August, then you’ll need to sort your data nicely so you can pick up later. So I’d say mid or end of September you’ll be ready for the next project.
  • Oh, but I’m supposed to start that next project early September.
  • Well, I’ve already spoken to the supervisor of that project, and it’s no problem if you start at the end of September, or even in October.

    Catching Barnacle Geese in Ny Ålesund, with my house in the background

To make a long story short, everything was arranged already, I could pick the subject I wanted to study, as long as it had some connection with Barnacle Geese and all I had to do was say ‘Yes’. Even though I had been thinking of doing a second research project in a place with a beautiful beach and palm trees, it didn’t take me long to say ‘Yes’. And then, four weeks later, on 21st June 1999, I set foot on Spitsbergen for the first time. Little did I know this simple ‘yes’ would have such an enormous impact on the rest of my life. The next three summers I spent with Maarten studying Barnacle Geese in Ny Ålesund and then I was asked by Oceanwide Expeditions to work as a guide for them. This year, twenty years after this message will be my 19th season on Spitsbergen, one that I’m really looking forward to!

Professor Molchanov, one of the ships I started working on as a guide


Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s