Arctic adventure for hope

 


article and photos by Ezra Manson

From August 4-20, 16-year-old Ezra Manson, along with 78 other international students, participated in a an exploration of the northern reaches of Nunavik and eastern Baffin Island, with the goal of developing the knowledge, skills, perspectives and practices needed to become polar ambassadors and environmentally responsible citizens. Despite modern influences and conveniences, Inuit have retained their language, core knowledge and beliefs. Future decisions regarding Arctic sovereignty, governance and development will affect Arctic environments, societies and international relations. Youth have a key role to play in shaping the world of today and the world of tomorrow. www.studentsonice.com/arctic2010

Sitting in a zodiac at the bottom of an 850-foot cliff while a cyclone of thousands of birds swooped all around brought my mind into a world of awe. Digges Island is home to 180,000 pairs of Thick-billed Murres, a seabird found exclusively in the Arctic. Garry Donaldson, a scientist who studies the birds, considers them to be the flying penguin of the north.

Through a program called Students on Ice, I spent two weeks exploring the Canadian Arctic. I am a 16-year-old from Vancouver, BC, who just graduated from the TREK Program at Prince of Wales Secondary. I was drawn to this opportunity to get a stronger grasp of climate change, learn more about my country and explore the possibilities of my future. This experience has transformed the way I will think and care about this planet for the rest of my life.

Kuujjuaq, located on the north coast of Nunavik, Quebec, was the farthest north I had ever travelled. As we drove through Kuujjuaq we passed hundreds of relatively young-looking trees. Upon our arrival at the town centre, the mayor of Kuujjuaq and a senator from Nunavik gave us a warm welcome to kick off our expedition. The mayor then talked about the blatant effects climate change has had on the region – one being that trees were an entirely new addition to the environment in Kuujjuaq; it had always been a region too far north for trees to grow. Climate change was actually capable of shifting the Earth’s tree line north.

Sailing through the Hudson Strait in the days to come presented me with perceptions and scenery that will forever be engraved in my memory. “In the past, we used the ice charts to avoid ice, but this year we are using them to find ice,” said expedition leader, Geoff Green. And there was no ice to be found.

Despite the lack of ice, we still had the chance to see spectacular sights such as icebergs, walrus colonies, polar bears and vast landscapes, which incessantly reminded me how insignificant we really are. One night I had the pleasure of seeing a sunset stretched 180 degrees across the horizon, followed by the northern lights dancing throughout the clear night sky.

Kekerten Island was a revelation. It’s an old whaling station from the 1800’s that was shared cooperatively by the Americans, Scottish and Inuit. I got a very strange vibe from this place. The surroundings were silent as I softly walked through a graveyard of perished whalers and thousands of bowhead whales. It made me feel ashamed that, as humans, we had yet again been the cause of an environmental tragedy, nearly wiping out the entire species.

The highlight may have been the day we sailed to Auyuittuq National Park, located in Cumberland Sound. We hiked through a valley with massive mountains encircling us on either side. After 12 kilometres of hiking through rivers, sand, moss, mud and no ice, we finally reached the Arctic Circle. Ironically, “Auyuittuq” means “the land that never melts” in Inuktitut. Now there were only a few rapidly retreating glaciers in this previously frozen land. For this reason, I found it very disheartening to look at some of the most beautiful scenery in the world and know that its ecosystems are at risk due to our actions. With scientists all over the world saying that we are fast approaching the point of no return regarding climate change, I could not help but feel frustrated, sad and powerless.

The next morning I woke up to an announcement over the intercom, “Bowhead whales at the starboard side of the bow.” Green said that he and the crew had counted over 40 bowheads in this little fjord. The simple realization that a species that was once nearly extinct now numbers in the thousands gave me assurance that humans can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Of the many presentations during the expedition, one by Alanna Mitchell resonated deeply within me. She described how the overload of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing the oceans to acidify, which is harmful to Earth’s most basic, yet vital, life forms. For the Thick-billed Murres and many other arctic species, this is detrimental for their survival since they feed off ocean life. And just as another spell of helplessness and gloom began to come over me, Alanna said with passion and concern, “You can choose hope.”

Ezra Manson first became interested in environmental studies through his father Paul Manson, who taught him the importance of renewable energy and why humans must live co-dependently with the environment. Next year, Ezra will attend VanTech where he hopes to spread his knowledge to his peers and the community. Email Ezra at ezramanson@hotmail.com Learn more at www.studentsonice.com