Tracking Climate Change in the North

August 20, 2017

We left Resolute last night after dinner, and headed due east and then south to continue our journey on the Northwest Passage to Gjoa Haven.  Our first (and only) stop of the day was at Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, a stunning set of cliffs that is the summer home to a few hundred thousand birds.  We were fortunate to have Paul Smith, a bird biologist with Environment Canada, as one of our experts, who gave us an excellent introduction to the broad-winged murres, kittiwakes, gulls, and northern fulmars that build their nests and raise their young on these steep cliff faces. Paul shared his stories of rappelling down cliffs to band these birds, and counting the birds by the thousands to assess the strength of their populations.  These birds are indicator species for climate change, and we learned of their challenges having to fish farther afield (sometimes up to 200km away) as fish stocks change (due to warming waters) or disappear altogether (from over-fishing.)  The effects of our huge eco-footprints are far-reaching, and are having negative effects on every species in the world, even north of the Arctic Circle. We’re struggling with this on this expedition – we recognize that as travelers we are having an impact on the land and eco-systems around us.  We’re aiming to keep these impacts small, but I worry that we’re not doing as much as we can; true of this journey and of my life back in Toronto.

Our group was happy to have a quieter afternoon on board – time to do some laundry, get some exercise (interval training in the hangar), do some writing or reading.  Aviaq Johnston, one of youth ambassadors, gave us an excellent overview of Inuit history, culture and governance that helped us to connect our learning throughout the trip. After dinner, Captain Stefan Guy gave a great presentation on how he would navigate through the waters of Bellot Strait and Franklin Strait the following day, given changing ice and wind conditions. We are taking the less-travelled route through Prince Regent Strait, heading south to Bellot Strait, a kilometre-wide passage that separates Boothia Peninsula from Somerset Island. We have been told to expect lots of ice – we’ll finally see what the Polar Prince can do as an icebreaker!

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