UPPER WEST SIDE — Armed with knee-high muck boots, waterproof outerwear, several thermal layers and enough memory cards to document every waking minute of his two-week trek, 17-year-old Upper West Sider David Fishman is suiting up for a voyage to Antarctica next month.
Fishman had assumed his passion for the environment would lead him on local expeditions — but when he met famed polar explorer Robert Swan, he was hooked on the notion of traveling to the southernmost continent.
"[Swan]'s made it his mission to take students, to take adults — as many people as he can get — to Antarctica and show people what’s there and what we have to lose," Fishman said of the British explorer, the first person to walk to both the North and South poles on two journeys in the mid- to late-'80s.
The Ethical Culture Fieldston School junior was among 19 students selected from around the world to make an annual "youth ambassadors" trip to Antarctica that departs March 8. The trip will be done under Swan's leadership and through the nonprofit 2041, whose name refers to the year the international moratorium on drilling and mining on the continent expires.
"[Antarctica] is the last great untouchable wilderness on our planet," Fishman said.
His mission is to learn about different species and environmental conditions by participating in lectures, classes and experiments while there, but also to become better grounded in the politics of preservation.
Students will be guided by Swan and other Antarctica experts to learn about its ecosystem and wildlife, said 2041 coordinator Shayna De Silva.
"Most importantly, we need team members to come back to their home countries as champions, and engage young people to protect Antarctica," she explained.
David's mother, Pam Kirshen-Fishman, isn't nervous for him to make the trek, but instead is filled with excitement for her son.
"It’s his independence, it’s his passion that’s taking him there," she said.
Kirshen-Fishman is thrilled her son will get exposure to students from around the world and for the learning that will happen along the way.
"You really can’t trade on-the-ground experience," she said.
A writer and blogger, Fishman plans to give a real-time account of his time in Antarctica by live blogging and tweeting using Wi-Fi equipment he's bringing with him.
His digital journaling makes sense, as Fishman is currently editor-in-chief of his school newspaper and serves as Secretary of Technology in student government. In years past, he's also written tech-focused blog posts for AOL, he said.
After the trip, Fishman said he'll create a daylong lecture and workshop for his classmates and others.
Fishman also plans to work with the biology and environmental science departments at Fieldston to integrate any new discoveries into their curriculum, he said.
"There are very few people who go to Antarctica. I have to share it," he said. "This trip is really the first step in creating a campaign of my own."
To Fishman, as with 2041, the time after his journey will be as important as the trip itself. He plans to travel to other schools and communities to share his experience, as well as speak locally at neighborhood forums, he said.
"We're confident that David will return back to New York as a young champion whereupon he'll continue to lobby for environmental causes," De Silva said.
In order to make the trip, Fishman has had to embark on an ambitious fundraising campaign.
A chunk of the $25,000 he's trying to raise for the trip came from family and friends, and he also locked in a donation from Morgan Stanley. He has raised $6,355 through his Crowdrise page and hopes to gather another $17,000 before leaving, he said.
But his plane ticket is already purchased, and Fishman said if he doesn't reach his fundraising goal, he'll tap his savings from working during the school year and summers at AOL.
"I feel honored to be chosen," Fishman said. "I feel ready."
Fishman tweets at @df_antarctica and blogs at 2041journeytoantarcti