Sailboats don’t find themselves in the Arctic by accident. Some of us are here for charters, or for the challenge of the northwest passage challenge. Others are here for research, or simply for the love of navigating these polar regions. But it’s always deliberate: it takes considerable preparation, funding, logistics, and skill to get here and to be ready. This year, Arctic Tern I has two important purposes for our time here: research on the globally significant seabird colonies around Bylot Island; and a film project on the local marine wildlife and its adaptation to the changing northern marine environment. All part of our long term mission to contribute to understanding of the biodiversity of the eastern Canadian Arctic.
As you know from previous blogs, our crewmate Samuel has been onboard doing surveys of pelagic seabirds during our passage north. Recently, our new mate Kieran arrived to team up with Samuel for the next two weeks. As sea ice prevented us from reaching Pond Inlet, Kieran was delivered to us by helicopter while the boat was at anchor!
After our several weeks together, our crew had become tight-knit. Welcoming new people aboard made us aware of a few things we’d begun to take for granted. To name a few: not walking on land for days at a time; keeping our Tern tidy – “a place for everything and everything in its place”, as they say – to avoid the chaos that would result otherwise; painstaking management of energy use from computers, cameras, and so on. When someone arrives in such a small environment, it makes you realize how self-sufficient and interdependent you’ve become: We are used to each other a lot; we know what each of us is doing at any moment, how they sleep/eat/rest/do a watch/run their bird survey etc. On 47 feet of sailboat, you can not lose track of anyone! And it almost feel like home after several weeks!
The area of Pond Inlet, where we are now, will see a lot of change in the next few years. Significant mining projects are underway and will involve a great deal more maritime traffic than the region has ever known. And, there is a protected marine area proposed for Lancaster Sound. Lots of change, and all will have some degree of impact on the marine ecology of the area. To understand that change, we must first understand the status quo. This – understanding the biodiversity of the marine ecology of the eastern Arctic – is why we’re here. With the help of the “Canadian Wildlife Service”, one of our projects this year is to characterize the seabird populations of this area: what species? how many? how do they use the habitat?
At the moment, Kieran is taking his bird watch after a couple hours of sleep and Samuel is about to go to bed. For 3 hours, they take turns and carefully note every single bird they see within an area of 300 meters from the boat as we move: northern Fulmar, thick-billed mures, black-legged kiddiwakes, black guillemots, etc. Are they flying, or on the water?
While the bird crew make their observations, the rest of us are run the boat on prescribed transects. Amazing to see how this scientific project (and the next one – filming orca and other marine wildlife) give sense to our presence here as well as to our jobs. Helping these scientists gathering data up here is part of the reason why I enjoy being here. Making a contribution to the scientific and cultural understanding of these important and fragile ecosystems. Arming decision-makers with information and perspective to help them plan human activity up here, and protect this wonderful place.
As I speak, we are anchored in Dundas Harbour, South of Devon Island, and some walruses are laying down on a rock not far from away. And, two hares scamper on the beach. We entered carefully and quietly, but it seems like nothing could interrupt their sunbath!