- Airbnb received 140,000 applications this fall for its all-expenses-paid expedition to Antarctica in December.
- Five individuals were selected for the trip. Among those are two Americans: Tynthia King from Arizona and Spencer Ingley from Hawaii.
- Together with citizen scientists from Dubai, Norway, and India, King and Ingley will study the impact of microplastics alongside scientist Kirstie Jones-Williams.
- The "Antarctic Sabbatical" follows Airbnb's inaugural sabbatical trip to Italy earlier this year.
- King and Ingley told Business Insider that they hope to use the trip to inspire a larger conversation about the effects of waste on the environment.
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Earlier this fall, Airbnb announced that it would be accepting applications for a month-long, all-expenses-paid research expedition to the most remote destination on Earth: Antarctica. In total, 140,000 people hailing from 200 countries and territories applied and five were selected to go. The five expedition members, announced on October 30 , include Tynthia King, a 35-year-old loan officer from Phoenix, Arizona, and Spencer Ingley, a 33-year-old assistant professor of biology at BYU-Hawaii.
King and Ingley will be joined by citizen scientists from Dubai, Norway, and India to study the presence of microplastics in Antarctica alongside scientist Kirstie Jones-Williams.
The expedition members will first attend immersion training for two weeks in Punta Arenas, Chile. They will then fly to Union Glacier Camp in Antarctica to collect snow samples and measure the presence of foreign microplastics over the course of 10 days. During the final week of their sabbatical, they will return to Chile to review their findings and partner with the Ocean Conservancy to communicate their findings.
The trip comes on the heels of Airbnb's inaugural sabbatical program this spring, which sent five individuals to help revitalize the historic town center of Grottole in southern Italy. The overarching goal of the sabbatical trips, according to Airbnb ,is to provide "eye-opening opportunities for people around the world to travel with purpose and do good."
Business Insider spoke with King and Ingley about what inspired them to apply to the sabbatical program.
Tynthia King is a loan officer whose efforts at reducing waste, from Ghana to her office in Phoenix, brought her to the sabbatical program
King's interest in the environment started on the humanitarian side, she told Business Insider.
King grew up in a poor neighborhood in Chicago and spent much of her childhood homeless. "I'm actually the only one of my siblings that hasn't been in federal prison," she told Business Insider. "I know a lot about what it is to grow up without things, and that kind of drove me to be passionate about youth having been a homeless youth."
A few years ago, an opportunity opened up for King to volunteer at an orphanage in Ghana. The purpose of the trip was to help build a composting bathroom.
Initially, King didn't know much about how composting bathrooms worked. "I am absolutely not an engineer," she said with a laugh.
Once she learned more about the process, she began to reflect on humans' environmental footprint.
After volunteering at the orphanage, King decided to explore more of Ghana and was aghast at what she saw in the fishing villages along the coast. "When you go to the beautiful Atlantic-side beaches, they're just littered with all types of old fishing equipment. They have bottles, they have plastic, and it's just filthy," she told Business Insider.
There was no clean-up effort around the beaches, so she started to clean them up herself.
King now works as a loan officer in Phoenix, Arizona, and has become "hyper-aware" of the impact of her everyday actions on the environment since her Ghana trip. Recently, a small Amazon order came to her office enclosed in a massive box wrapped in what King likened to "20,000 pieces of bubble wrap plastic." This level of excess prompted King to approach her COO and begin a recycling program.
King heard of the Airbnb Antarctic Sabbatical amid discussions of reducing office waste and was surprised to learn that microplastics would reach such a remote region.
Antarctica has also been on King's travel list since childhood. "When I was a kid, I knew that I wanted to visit every continent," she said. "I never wanted to spend the money halfway across the world to take some pictures in a bikini on a beach somewhere. I wanted to make my time wherever I was going important or worth it or to take something away from that experience."
Spencer Ingley is an assistant professor of biology who sees parallels between Hawaii and Antarctica
Growing up near a lake in Gainseville, Florida, Ingley developed a love of nature at an early age. Today, he shares his passion for the outdoors with Brigham Young University-Hawaii students as an assistant professor of biology.
BYU-Hawaii has a student body of 2,500 with students from 70 countries and countries. Many of these students come from Asia and the Pacific, which presents a unique teaching opportunity, according to Ingley. "These are the countries that are having some of the biggest impacts on environmental issues like ocean plastic pollution, and also they're the countries that are being most impacted by these issues," he said.
"Our students can go back to their home countries across the Pacific and throughout Asia and be leaders in their community," he added.
Ingley told Business Insider that one of his favorite classes to teach is an introductory biology course that focuses, in part, on conservation issues in Hawaii and across the Pacific.
Ingley's students are often surprised to learn that the trash washing up on beaches of Oahu is by and large not from the island. "Virtually none of the pollution that we find on our shores is local," said Ingley. "Almost all of it is coming from Asia and from the west coast of North America."
In this sense, Ingley noted, Antarctica is not all that different from Hawaii. "It's incredibly remote, but it's threatened. It's being bombarded with these outside forces, such as plastics coming in," he said.
One thing that is quite different, however, is the weather. While Ingley has spent time in cold locations before, Antarctica is in a league of its own. "I'm not sure there's anything that you could do to prepare for Antarctica other than being in it," he said.
Ingley learned about the Airbnb sabbatical program through one of his students and hopes that his experience will encourage future students, and others around the world, to be stewards of their environment.
Ingley also calls himself "an explorer at heart."
Though preparing to be off the grid for a month will be a challenge, fieldwork is par for the course in his profession, Ingley said, and he plans to be in touch with his students as much as possible during the trip. "I'm thrilled about the adventure and work that awaits," he told Business Insider.
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