Hundreds of people from around the world rushed to apply for the five-month role at Port Lockroy in Antarctica this year.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 27, 2022
You might not think that running the world's most remote post office, located in Antarctica, is a coveted job opportunity. However, hundreds of people from around the world rushed to apply for the five-month role at Port Lockroy—affectionally dubbed the "Penguin Post Office"—where, as the nickname suggests, one of the key specifications of the job is the ability to count penguins. The nearly 80-year-old British-owned building on Goudier Island, which is about the size of a football field and populated by hundreds of penguins, doubles as a museum and is managed by the U.K. Antarctic Heritage Trust.
According to The Washington Post, the British charity hires four postmasters to live on the island from November to March every year. Although each of the four chosen candidates will have unique roles, they are collectively responsible for maintaining the historic site and catering to the thousands of tourists who come to visit the island by boat during the season. The staff is also in charge of monitoring wildlife—which includes tallying penguins—and environmental data collection. The charity clearly warns applicants that this isn't a glamorous or comfortable job. It requires sharing a small lodge with three others for five months without running water, internet or cellphone service, and sleeping in bunk beds.
Although visiting ships will offer showers when they stop by, the postmasters will be required to share the single bathroom and camping toilet available onsite the rest of the time. "Living there is quite hard work," explained Camilla Nichol, the chief executive of the trust, which preserves and protects several historic sites and artifacts in Antarctica. "You might be working 12-hour days. There's not much time for rest and relaxation." And yet, the job is widely sought-after. The charity receives hundreds of applications every year for the postmaster position. One year, more than 2500 candidates applied.
"We get people of all ages from all over the world," said Nichol, adding that candidates "from all walks of life" apply for the positions. "We are looking for people who are fit and resilient and really love meeting people and visitors." Applicants for the four roles—which include base leader, shop manager and two general assistants—must be eligible to work in the United Kingdom. Those selected this year will do a week of training in Cambridge before heading to Antarctica in October, where they will remain until March 2023. Depending on the specific role, salaries range from about $1,600 per month to $2,300. The contracts span six months, which includes one month of training before the Antarctic excursion.
Nichol shared that since the site has been closed off to visitors for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, "there's a real return to Antarctica this season. We're very excited about that." According to Lucy Dorman, who was a base leader at Port Lockroy during the 2019-2020 season, living at Port Lockroy—also known as "Base A"—"takes a bit more work" than other places. "There's a lot of carrying things around," she said, adding that staff haul "boxes, buckets and jerrycans through the snow or over slippery rocks most days" as well as take care to keep the site clean, which includes spending "a lot of time brushing penguin poop off rocks."
"The most important thing is to pick people who will get along. During the training week, you get a sense of everybody's habits and quirks," Dorman said. Nichol agreed, explaining: "You've got to get along because you can't get away from each other very easily. We're looking for a team; four people who can live and work together." However, Dorman assures that although the job can be challenging at times, "there's a real sense of community. That sort of togetherness and what you can achieve in a short period of time is very rewarding."
For Dorman, tracking the penguin presence on the island is a job perk, despite the fact that "most people are probably not so aware of how smelly they are." "You just get used to it," she said. "You give way to the penguins. It's a privilege to spend time close to wildlife." The team keeps careful count of the number of breeding pairs, the nests they make, the eggs that are laid and the chicks that hatch as part of a long-term study on the breeding cycle of penguins that live on the island with the aim of tracking potential population growth or decline. Nichol revealed that while many prospective postmasters are initially intrigued by the penguins, the total experience offers "a different perspective on the world and a new perspective on your role in the planet. You can watch the sun go down and hear the glacier ice melting. It's an extraordinary place."