WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — From Sunday, workers at the main United States base in Antarctica will no longer be able to walk into a bar and order a beer, after the U.S. federal agency that oversees the research program decided to stop serving alcohol. McMurdo Station will not be going entirely dry, the National Science Foundation confirmed. Researchers and support staff will still be able to buy a weekly ration of alcohol from the station store. But the policy shift could prove significant because the bars have been central to social life in the isolated environment.
The changes come as concerns grow that sexual misconduct has been allowed to flourish at McMurdo. An investigation by The Associated Press last month uncovered a pattern of women who said their claims of harassment or assault were minimized by their employers, often leading to them or others being put in further danger.
In some of the cases outlined by the AP, alcohol played a role. But the NSF told the AP the changes involving alcohol were related to morale and welfare at the base, and were not aimed at preventing sexual harassment or assault. Under the new rules taking effect Sunday, workers will be able to order only alcohol-free drinks at McMurdo’s two main bars, Southern Exposure and Gallagher’s. They will still be able to bring their own alcohol to drink at the bars. A third venue which also served alcohol, the Coffee House, will become entirely alcohol-free but will now stay open for workers to visit any time of the day or night.
The current alcohol ration allows Antarctic workers to buy up to the equivalent of 18 beers each week, or three bottles of wine, or a 750 milliliter (25 ounce) bottle of spirits. The NSF said it’s also instituting several new measures during the current southern hemisphere spring and upcoming summer that are aimed at preventing sexual harassment and assault at the base, where typically around 70% of workers are men. These include enhanced training, a new survey to collect data and monitor trends, and visits to the ice from experts.
Karen Marrongelle, the NSF’s chief operating officer, said it was committed to ensuring a safe environment wherever science or education was conducted. “We will not rest until we are confident that every member of the Antarctic community feels safe and supported,” she said in a statement.
The NSF published a report in 2022 in which 59% of women said they’d experienced harassment or assault while on the ice, and 72% of women said such behavior was a problem in Antarctica. Last year, the NSF created an office to deal with such complaints, provided a confidential victim’s advocate, and established a 24-hour helpline.
The AP investigation found a pattern of problems at McMurdo. One woman who reported a colleague had groped her was made to work alongside him again. Another woman who told her employer she was sexually assaulted was fired two months later. Another woman said bosses at the base downgraded her allegations from rape to harassment.
Source: AP NEWS