August 18, 2010

Expedition Update

Thick-Billed Murres at Akpatok Island

Today’s destination is the wonderful Akpatok Island. This island - the largest island in Ungava Bay - is named for the Akpat, the Thick-Billed Murres that live on its limestone cliffs. Uninhabited Akpatok Island has International Biological Program status, is a Canadian Important Bird Area, as well as a Key Migratory Bird Terrestrial Habitat site. In addition to the Thick-Billed Murres, other notable bird species that may be on the island include Black Guillemot and Peregrine Falcon. Here we’ll use our zodiacs to scout the beaches in search of walrus and polar bears. 

While on the ship, the students will also engage in a Youth Forum. Geoff Green will give a presentation on “Polar Ambassadorship” and “Inspiring Generation G” to help students focus on how to take what they’ve learned during these past few weeks and apply it to their communities, and to even larger scale - to help prevent further damage being done to our planet and its polar regions. The evening will be filled with activities on board for the students and the creation of a Youth Impressions wall, where students will be encouraged to leave behind what they learned from the experience for others to reflect on in the future.

The students will be busy with wrap-up activities and youth action groups to help them make sense of what they have experienced over the past couple weeks, and there will be plenty of time on deck to look out for Polar Bears, Seals and Whales! Students are extremely excited to share their new experiences, observations and ideas with friends, family and others when they return home. They have mobilized around diverse issues, projects, initiatives and actions that they will continue well past the end of the expedition. These young polar ambassadors are committed to making a difference locally, regionally, nationally and internationally!

The students can expect a big Captain's Dinner during their “Final Evening on Ship” - replete with a lot of celebration, presentations, skits, slide shows - and briefings - as they sail ever closer to Kuujjuaq.

To follow the expedition click the Spot logo below:

Government of Canada International Polar Year students out on deck

Eva Saunders won the Arctic 2010 Northern Artist award,
presented by SOI Art Director, Linda Mackey

Makivik Corporation sponsored students Jimmy-Jacob and Daniel

Students explore the shore below the bird cliffs of Akpatok Island by Zodiac

Makivik Corporation sponsored students Larissa, Eva, Eva and Vicky

A Polar Bear patrols the beach below the bird cliffs

A Thick-billed Murre returns to feed its chick on Akpatok Island

Polar Bear

Surprises under the lens of a microscope!

Julie enjoys a Zodiac ride

Chantal and Hannah reflect during the 'Youth Impressions Wall' activity

Christina shares her reflections on the 'Youth Impressions Wall'

Zoë Caron

We are nearing the expedition’s end. Our onboard team – or rather, family – begins to collect the pieces and connect the dots between the words and the direct effects of climate change.

Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld of CBC Ottawa hosted a five-person “At Issues” panel this evening. I sat alongside, sharing the seats with Canadian Wildlife Service’s Garry Donaldson, arctic biologist Dr. David Gray, geographer Dr. Peter Harrison and Inuit elder David Serkoak. The issue at hand: Polar bear conservation. The audience: 80 inquisitive high school students.

The crux and unspoken truth of most impacts on the Arctic are that they are the result of activities pursued by people who come from away. They are not as a result of the way of the lives of most people of the land. Climate change in particular is largely the result of a culmination of industrial activities, warming the globe and warming the Arctic more than any other region on the planet.

In that vein, what polar bear conservation boils down to is not really the preservation of the bear in of itself, but rather the greater ecosystem that the King of the Arctic has come to represent.

The sometimes-misleading fact of the matter is that polar bear populations are currently fairly stable. And while hunting, land conservation, oil and gas exploration are all issues to consider, it’s climate change that is presenting the deepest threat of them all. The primary challenge for (polar bears/walrus/narwhal etc.) is that thousands of years of evolution have prepared them for life in the sea ice. Climate change is causing that ice cover to change rapidly, in both extent and thickness, ice that polar bears currently depend on.

If climate change goes unattended, we stand to lose 30 to 70 percent of species on this planet. Whether polar bears end up in that category or not, the threat that the polar bear represents is the potential collapse of ecosystems – the full chain of events, the full support system – and that is where the concern lies.

Based on the precautionary principle, and the projections of the IPCC, we are wandering very closely into a closing window of time that we have to significantly – and substantially – act. Acting substantially to slow the rate of human-caused climate change is the number one action we can take to lessen human impacts on wildlife in the Arctic. By working with Inuit, governments, and other necessary partners, we are moving in a direction that will shift our energy production to being from renewable energy resources.

Seeing seven of the great white polar bears this morning, I kneeled low with my chin on the zodiac – marveling, staring, squinting – watching every graceful move of this near perfect being. A cub diligently followed its mother. Another wandered towards us along the shore, just metres from us, just close enough to meet eyes.

I would render it impossible to do anything but sail away from that gaze with a feeling of duty to do all possible to live in pure compatibility of all that is encompassed by the Arctic. And I know for certain there are at least 80 other people that feel the same way.


Mike Jensen

Today marks the start of our long goodbyes and farewells, as we end our last full day on the ship. It’s a day of highs and lows as we all come to the realization that our long journey is about to come to an end.

The morning started with a refreshing zodiac cruise around Akpatok Island. Akpatok is home to the largest seabird colony in the Arctic, numbering over a million. But it was seven polar bears that highlighted the visit, lumbering along the shore, including three cubs.

The island itself has towering steep cliffs made of limestone, which reminded me of the quarries of my hometown, Stonewall. It seemed a fitting way to end our last cruise – a sight that made me look forward to returning home.

The rest of the day flew past and before long it was time for the traditional final briefing and talent show. To give you an idea of the talent of our students and staff, here are some examples of what was said and done:

Geoff Green introduced and thanked the Captain of the Orlova, along with its staff and crew. All of them received a standing ovation. Geoff then gave some more details on our expedition – it was the longest SOI trip ever done, with 14 cruises and landings. We’ve traveled 2160 nautical miles on our journey from Kuujjuaq and back. According to the kitchen, we ate 200 dozen eggs, 5 kg of dark chocolate, 140 litres of milk, 50 kg of sugar, 100 lbs of pasta, 400 loaves of bread, 100 kg of onions, 100 kg of potatoes, and an amazing 80 lbs of cheese.

The rest of the talent show was made up of students and staff reciting poems, singing songs, playing instruments (guitars, harmonicas, violins, and an accordion). There was a lot of laughter, some bad singing and some great performances. It truly was a fine way to wrap up our diverse and unique excursion.

It’s after midnight, and the talent show is winding up. As usual, our plans have changed for tomorrow. We arrive at Kuujjuaq early in the morning, but instead of getting tours of the town, we have to head straight to the airport to catch our flight, which had changed from early afternoon to late morning.

It seems surreal that things are coming to an end for another SOI expedition. Tomorrow will start the tears and hugs, as we begin to say farewell to some members of our family. If it’s anything like last year, it will be an emotional time…

See you all back in civilization!



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