"It's an inspirational but frightening place" he says. "And it's the only place on Earth that no-one owns. Man has been there for only 100 years, and you can feel the inspiration of Scott and Shackleton when you're there."
That inspiration has led Robert to launch an internet petition at www.missionantarctica.com pledging support for international efforts to protect this extraordinary continent where, in places, the ice is 4,500 metres thick. The petition will be presented to the International Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg next year.
"Antarctica is a visual place, possessing an incredible feeling of space and openness" Robert says, "and my message is that we must leave it alone. Against all the odds it's still pristine, and it would be a catastrophe if anything were to change. It really is the last wilderness on Earth."
In 1986, along with Roger Mear and Gareth Wood, Robert Swan arrived at the South Pole after travelling 1,421 kilometres without radios or assistance of any kind. Now, he presides over Mission Antarctica, a five-year programme involving young people and businesses dedicated to the preservation of the Antarctic wilderness.
At the age of 11, Robert recalled, he saw John Mills in the classic film Scott of the Antarctic. "It totally captured my imagination. Today, young people can still be exhilarated, and I want to inspire them about Antarctica so that when they're 50, they'll still have a burning commitment to the environment."
Through the internet, Robert is hoping to amass anything between three and five million signatures. After the Johannesburg summit, he intends to take his petition across the United States, then through the legendary Northwest Passage, the Atlantic-Pacific sea route around the north of Canada, before setting up an education station in Antarctica itself. WWF endorses the aims and ambitions of Mission Antarctica, and the on-line petition supporting the preservation of Antarctica as the last great wilderness on Earth.
Professor Robert Swan, OBE
Pledge your support
Visit the Mission Antarctica website and pledge your support for its efforts to ensure the preservation of Antarctica as the last great wilderness on Earth.