Crossing the Drake, first impressions of Antarctica




The MV Ushuaia, docked at the port of Ushuaia, waiting for us to board


Walking up the gangway of the MV Ushuaia, our floating home, I was filled with excitement for what lay ahead!

Walking up the gangway of the MV Ushuaia, our floating home for the next 20 days, I couldn’t even imagine what adventures lay ahead. It’s hard to describe how I felt, standing on the stern of the ship, watching the port of Ushuaia disappear into the distance. Excitement? Absolutely! A kind of excitement I have never felt before. Trepidation? None whatsoever. I think my feeling was more of a sense of mystery and anticipation of the complete unknown. I’d never been to Antarctica before and even though I’d been to the Arctic a few times, I couldn’t seem to imagine what Antarctica was going to be like. Of course I’d seen photos and watched documentaries. But the fact the fact that I was going to Antarctica… I was still in disbelief.


Me on the stern of the MV Ushuaia, with the port of Ushuaia disappearing into the distance



As we slowly left Ushuaia behind, I wondered what it would be like when we crossed the Drake Passage. The Drake, after all, is one of the roughest seas in the world. I’d never been sea sick or motion sick before, ever. But there’s a first for everything. I wasn’t worried about it though. I had Gravol (anti-nausea meds) and my Relief Band, an electronic gizmo that combats nausea through neuromodulation. Using electrical impulses, it stimulates a nerve in the wrist which sends electrical impulses to the brain, which then sends a signal to the stomach to restore normal gastric rhythm. Yes, probably too much information, but I am a scientist and scientists wanna know. The most important part about the Relief Band is that YES, it does work and yes, the Drake Passage put it to the test.


There is no way to take a photo to show what the Drake Passage was like. This is very, very clam and just before hitting the Antarctic Convergence

I say the Drake Passage put the Relief Band to the test. I’m not sure how many Relief Bands were on board our ship, but most of us had one. So there was lots of ‘testing’ going on.  Having said that, we were told by Greg Mortimer, our very experienced expedition leader, who has been to Antarctica by ship, many, many times, that our crossing was one of the smoothest he has ever experienced. It’s crossings like this where they call the Drake Passage, the Drake Lake. Don’t get me wrong. The ship pitched from side to side. And people were sick. Me? Just one hint of queasiness that the Relief Band took care of quickly. For those who do suffer from significant sea sickness, the crossing wasn’t fun. But it was FAR better than it was for the folks on the MV Ushuaia on the previous expedition who had 20 foot swells.

So why is the Drake Passage so notoriously rough? Blame the Antarctic Convergence. The what, you say? The Antarctic Convergence. It’s the name given to the region where the ocean currents that continuously encircle Antarctica – old, northward-flowing antarctic waters, meet the relatively warmer waters of the subantarctic. It’s where these two currents converge that things get rough. But we were really lucky. Relatively speaking, it was smooth sailing…


A map showing the Antarctic Convergence, where the warmer waters of the north meet the colder waters of the south

Once we passed the Antarctic Convergence and made our way toward the Antarctic Peninsula, the magic began to happen. It started with icebergs. Massive icebergs! I learned that there is an entire vocabulary to describe ice – whether it’s sea ice, fast ice, tabular ice bergs, growlers…. Our introduction to ice was seeing absolutely huge slabs of ice, many taller than our ship. My reaction to seeing these massive bergs for the first time was far from eloquent. I think I must have won a prize for the number of times I said the word, “Wow”. It’s all I could come up with. And for someone who is almost never at a loss for words, this was significant. I came to experience many, many time over the course of our expedition, that this was the one word I could articulate. It was a symptom of the most wonderful sense of overwhelm that I have ever experienced.


It’s impossible to not be in awe of landscapes like this

As we moved closer to the the South Shetland Islands, a group of islands north of the Antarctic Peninsula (the mainland, or antarctic continent), the icebergs became more numerous. I don’t care how many of those giant tabular icebergs one sees; they never lose their impact. They are so imposing. And to think that we are only seeing the 10% that is above water….


Massive tabular icebergs. Without anything for scale, it’s impossible to convey the immense size of these. Many were far taller than our ship. And remember that 90% of an iceberg is hidden below water

The ultimate in iceberg excitement was our first sighting of penguins on an ice floe. It felt like something out of a Disney movie, but is was real. It was our new reality. I can’t even come up with the words to describe the feeling of seeing penguins on an ice floe. Wow. Yes, that’s all I could muster. But the epitome of the magic happened when we passed by a massive iceberg, taller than our ship. It was boot-shaped. And on the ‘instep’ was a group of penguins. Wow again! Needless to say, my camera was working overtime at this point. I was craving capturing the moment to share with others. Since I couldn’t find the words to describe what I was seeing and feeling, maybe I could capture it with my camera. As I came to learn, the lighting in Antarctica is magical. It is varied, often due to cloud cover, but even on bright sunny days, the light seemed different from anything I’d ever seen before. The way the subdued, gentle light was bathing this giant penguin-covered iceberg was  beyond description. A case of a picture really and truly being worth a thousand words.


A massive iceberg with penguins hitching a ride

It’s hard to believe that seeing massive icebergs was a common thing and yet it never felt common. It always elicited the same excitement as the first time we saw them. And while we were busy doing our ‘classroom learning’, all learning came to an immediate halt and the meeting room emptied out when someone shouted, “iceberg!” or “whale!”.


A great way to travel!

Seeing land for the first time in Antarctica was equally spectacular. Our first encounter with land was at the Aitcho Islands, a cluster of small islands on the west side of the north entrance to the English Straight, which separates Greenwich Island and Robert Island, in the South Shetland Islands, and north of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Aitcho Islands, as they are officially known, were originally named the H.O. Islands – the H.O. standing for Hydrographic Office, a name of military original given to the islands when they were mapped in 1935.


Our first sights of Antarctica were these massive chunks of rock near the Aitcho Islands in the South Shetland Islands

Our first shore landing happened in there Aitcho Islands, on Barientos Island. And it was our up close and personal introduction to…..PENGUINS!!!


Sparring Chinstrap penguins


Our Homeward Bound journey

img_1513Last night I returned home to Canada, after the most extraordinary adventure of my entire life – the Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition to Antarctica.

I was one of 76 women on the expedition. Homeward Bound was created by Australian business woman, leadership expert, and visionary, Fabian Dattner. Fabian had a dream. A dream of what could be accomplished if women had an equal voice at the leadership table, especially tables where decisions are made about creating a more sustainable future for our planet and its people. She shared her dream with Jess Melbourne-Thomas of the Australian Antarctic Division and with that, a dream became reality. Homeward Bound was born. A leadership development program for women in science, with the goal of having 1,000 women participate over 10 years.


Fabian Dattner, contemplating the Antarctic landscape

After 2 years of immense work, planning and dedication by the Homeward Bound Team as well as a year of very busy pre-expedition preparation by the 76 women participants – juggling family life, work, and preparing for leaving it all behind for a month – Homeward Bound launched in Ushuaia, Argentina – known as the ‘end of the world’ and the gateway to Antarctica – on December 2, 2016.


Our Homeward Bound adventure kits – our expedition jackets, a notebook/diary, touque, water bottle, pendant, and backpack – from our incredible sponsors


Trying on our Homeward Bound expedition jackets. Thank you Kathmandu for your sponsorship.


Boarding the MV Ushuaia, headed for the Antarctic Peninsula

We boarded our ship, the MV Ushuaia, our floating home for the next 20 days. The Ushuaia would take us across the Drake Passage – some of the roughest seas in the world – and then up and down the Antarctic Peninsula, going ashore daily to explore the magical landscapes of the frozen continent. While exploring Antarctica and learning about its polar ecosystems, the species that live there, the Antarctic climate and the history of humans on the continent, we were also learning about how to become strong leaders, influencers and change makers. Each day, the Homeward Bound faculty (consisting of leadership, strategy and visibility coaches and Antarctic science experts) led us through a program to bolster our leadership abilities. To receive this world-class instruction from experts in the field and with Antarctica as our backdrop, was an incredible experience in so many ways.


Our first sighting of land in Antarctica

We ‘worked’ on ourselves, through analyzing diagnostic test such as the Lifestyles Inventory, 4MAT and MSCEIT. These tests helped us understand ourselves, how we operate – the good and the bad – and how we can take these qualities to bolster or change them to enhance our leadership abilities. We built personal strategy maps to pave the way for the lives we want to live, to carve out the path forward. After all, it’s hard to know how to get there when you don’t know where you are going. Kit Jackson’s strategy mapping really helped us figure out our priorities and how to achieve the things that are important to us. We learned, from Julia May, how to increase our visibility – a critical component of getting people’s ear on the issues we are so passionate about and affecting the change we want to see in the world. We watched short interviews full of inspiration and wisdom, filmed specifically for Homeward Bound, by notable women leaders such as Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, and Christiana Figueres, and others. We had small group discussions and one on one conversations about what leadership means to us. We formed triads as a way to help each other through the process of personal change, often sharing stories and experiences as encouragement.


Receiving instruction in the LSI (Lifestyles Inventory) from Fabian

All of this happened on a ship in Antarctica. Our days were filled with a combination of leadership development work, excursions to the Antarctic landscape, and in the evenings, a bit of time to work on other things we were busy with, such as the Adopt A Scientist Program I am part of, which is a piece of my involvement in the Homeward Bound Education Project. But there was also time for drinks and conversation and a lot of fun.

While we were busy doing and exploring, we had our own film crew on board, filming for a documentary that will be made about Homeward Bound. Although we were supposed to ‘pretend they weren’t there’ so that the footage was authentic, like the crew of the ship, the film crew became just as important to us all as each of the 76 women participants. It really did become one big family for 20 days.


Dale and Gary, two of the wonderful members of the 5 person film team

Spending 20 days on a small ship with about 90 people in close quarters. Sometimes that can lead to friction, especially when battling tiredness, sea sickness or the cold and flu that swept through our ship like wildfire. But considering our close quarters for many days, the difficulties were few. And where they did happen, open and respectful conversations were used to try to resolve differences.  I was so impressed by how everyone not only got along, but in many cases, took on the role as each other’s caregivers during times of stress, difficult news coming from home via our limited internet connection, colds, flu, sea sickness and other challenges. I witnessed some of the most incredible examples of caring, compassion and support amongst people who mostly began our journey as strangers, united by a common purpose and passion. If we could only see communities and nations come together in the way we all did on that ship, our world would be a far, far gentler, more compassionate place.


The stunning landscape of Antarctica


Duelling Chinstrap penguins


Penguins hitching a ride on an iceberg

Our Homeward Bound Antarctic Expedition is over. But our Homeward Bound journey together has only just begun. Most of us are back home and some, such as me, are beginning to struggle with reintegration into day to day life. I have always been adverse to habit and normalcy. I need change. I get bored. I need to be challenged. I have a restless soul. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life in so many ways! I have the most incredible friends and family who constantly support me and cheer me on. I live in a beautiful little house in the woods in a place I dreamed of living. But to go from spending days zooming in zodiac boats to  visit penguin colonies, explore volcanic islands, and soak in the dramatic Antarctic landscape, well, for me this will be a challenge. There is a part of me that is still in Antarctica. And I think it always will be. I left a part of my heart there. I don’t know when or how, but I will get back to Antarctica. I have to. I feel it tugging at my heart. In the meantime, I will find ways to leverage my Homeward Bound experience to enhance my work in environmental education and conservation. My passion in life is connecting people to nature and inspiring them to care enough to protect it. After Homeward Bound, I’m more determined than ever to execute my life’s mission. It does mean things will need to change – how I earn my living and pay my bills, and possibly even where I live. But I’m more determined than ever to realize my dreams and fulfill my life’s mission, to feed my passion. A big part of that dream, passion and mission is taking people, especially youth, around the world on environmental learning expeditions. I will find a way to make this a reality. And I know I have 76 incredible women and the entire Homeward Bound Team, cheering me on.


Here I am soaking up Antarctica. Photo by Sarah Connelly

The start of something incredible…

I’ve been here in Ushuaia for 3 days now. At least I think I have. I’ve lost all track of time. I have to check my phone to see what day it is and it doesn’t get dark here until about 11pm so even my sense of time during the day is off kilter.

Over the past few days, the 76 Homeward Bound women have been arriving a few at a time, here in Ushuaia. It’s been the most incredible experience. We have all worked together for nearly 2 years toward this goal and yet until I arrived here in Ushuaia, I’d only met one of the 76 women – Wynet Smith – who is based in Ottawa. As we have begun to connect here in Ushuaia, it feels more like a homecoming, not new introductions. At least 2/3 of the participants are from Australia and many of them are already connected, but that doesn’t really matter. It isn’t a barrier. It hasn’t created cliques. Not at all. I’m so impressed by how quickly we have all connected, regardless of where we are from, our age. Our differences don’t really seem to exist. Instead we are focused on our similarities – our shared experiences through our science careers, our passion for women’s leadership and the environment. These are the things that bring us together.


The stunning scenery of Tierra del Fuego National Park, near Ushuaia, Argentina. Our hike through the beautiful southern beech forests was wonderful and we were treated to views like this.

Yesterday I went hiking with 3 of the HB women. We drove up to Tierra del Fuego National Park, not far from Ushuaia, to hike in the southern beech forest. It was a beautiful day and a great way to get out, stretch our legs after many hours of travelling, and a great way to spend time together to get to know each other. We even bumped into 4 other HB women who had taken the bus up for the hike.


Me, Kathleen and Sam – Homeward Bound women. We are all from the Perth area, Kathleen and Sam from Perth, Western Australia and me from near Perth, Ontario.

I don’t know what the next 20 days hold in store, but if the past few have been any indication, I think we are in for an incredible and even magical experience. 76 women, one mission.


Where hydrogeology meets hops, it’s good for the environment – Cartwright Springs Brewery, Pakenham, Ontario

Biosphere is all about connecting people to nature and helping them learn about the environment. Although our flagship activity is taking people, especially youth, around the world on environmental learning expeditions to some of the most amazing places on the planet, we also know that understanding what’s happening in our own backyard is just as important. That includes learning about and supporting local businesses that operate in a way that is good for the environment. We love supporting businesses like this because they show that you CAN make a profit and operate in an environmentally sensitive way  . Profits and the environment are not an ‘either or’. Businesses can do both.

Today we discovered an outstanding example of a local business balancing planet and profits – Cartwright Springs Brewing Company in  Pakenham, Ontario. In impromptu visit to Cartwright had us taste testing their incredible brew. While we worked our way from the pilsner to the porter, we got talking with Eduardo Guerra, one of the business partners. By the time we’d made it to the bottom of a tasting glass of maple porter, Eduardo was telling the story of Cartwright’s cutting edge water treatment system. Cartwright is made with spring water – water that bubbles out of the ground right outside their front door. Because  they depend on this water for their brew, it’s extremely important that they protect this water source. But it’s more than that. Cartwright cares about the environment. So much so, that they spent a lot of money putting in a high-tech water treatment system that treats all of the water on site. And after treatment, all of the water that flows into the weeping bed is cleaner than grey water that a household water recycling system would produce. That really impressed us!

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As we sipped their springwater-fresh brew, Eduardo was telling us that the ‘waste’ (the spent grains) goes to a local farmer and is used as animal feed. So the environmental footprint of this micro-brewery is incredibly small – possibly smaller than any in Ontario and maybe even any in Canada.

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We applaud Cartwright’s committment to the environment. They’re showing local businesses and the brewing industry at large, that you can run a profitable business in a way that is good for the environment. This is a philosophy that Richard Branson’s Plan B projet is promoting – that people and planet matter just as much as profits and that businesses around the world can operate in a way that generates profit while being good for communities and the environment.

If you’re in the Ottawa area, I really hope you’ll consider visiting the Cartwright Springs Brewery. It’s nestled in the forest not far off the main road. Grab a pint and park in one of their Adirondack chairs on their stone patio. Support our local businesses who make the effort to be at the forefront of sustainability. Way to go Cartwright! Biosphere gives you two thumbs up!



Erratum – I incorrectly stated in a previous version of this article that the spent grain was used as organic fertilizer. This was incorrect. The correct information is that it is used as animal feed by a local farmer.

Arctic Expedition 2014 – some experiences just change your life forever…

Getting out in zodiacs to explore was one of the huge highlights of the trip for me. I love that the students (and staff) got to see, smell, taste, touch, hear - to experience the north with all of their senses. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball)

Getting out in zodiacs to explore was one of the huge highlights of the trip for me. I love that the students (and staff) got to see, smell, taste, touch, hear – to experience the north with all of their senses. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball)

A few days ago I returned from the trip of a lifetime. No, not a trip of a lifetime. An experience of a lifetime. I was an educator (biologist, photographer, and environmental communicator) on the 2014 Students On Ice Arctic Expedition. I, along with 45 other educators and support staff and 86 high school students from Canada, the U.S., Scotland, China, Monaco, and Greenland, spent 12 days together on an icebreaker, exploring the arctic – northern Quebec, the coast of Labrador (including the absolutely spectacular Torngat Mountains National Park), and then southwest Greenland.

The incredible rugged beauty of the Labrador coast near Torngats Mountain National Park. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball)

The incredible rugged beauty of the Labrador coast near Torngats Mountain National Park. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball)

It was 12 of the most spectacular, action-packed, eye-opening, inspiring days of my life. And for those 86 high school students on board, it changed their lives. For some, profoundly. In subsequent blog posts, I’ll share some of those stories. In my 20+ years as an educator, I have never seen such transformations in young people in such a short time. It may sound corny, but what I witnessed on that ship in those 12 days renewed my hope in humanity. There are truly good people out there who will do good things, not just for themselves, but for our entire global community. I have no doubt that some of those 86 students on our expedition will be the ones to go on to do great things – big things –  for our world. But also small things too. I think it’s important to be reminded that big isn’t the supreme goal. We can all do something good for our world, in our own ways, no matter how small. So I believe that all of the 86 students on this expedition will have an important influence on the world, in one way or another. Every effort, every action matters, regardless of magnitude.

Me, teaching a photography workshop on shore. I wanted to inspire the students to use their images to share their experiences with the world and to share their concerns about the health of the arctic environment and its cultures, with the rest of the world.

Me, teaching a photography workshop on shore. I wanted to inspire the students to use their images to share their experiences with the world and to share their concerns about the health of the arctic environment and its cultures, with the rest of the world. (photo copyright Lee Naraway).

If I had to sum up the achievements and milestones of the expedition, it would be difficult, because there were so many. We learned about the arctic environment – plants, animals, geology, ocean currents…. We learned about the peoples of the arctic – their culture, history, and some of the tragic stories of contemporary times, when Inuit were forced by the government to leave their homes, their communities, to live elsewhere, and to adopt ‘southern’ ways of life. This was all part of the governments strategy, decades ago, to assimilate our northern peoples into ‘southern’ ways of life. We learned about climate change. We learned about the geo-politics of the north. From early in the morning until late at night, we were busy – outside exploring on the land, exploring the shoreline by zodiac, participating in workshops on board our ship, listening to presentations given by educators, hearing ‘life stories’ that inspired us. There were so many great things we experienced and that resulted from this expedition. But I would have to say that watching the students stretch – to muster up the courage to step outside of their comfort zones in order to experience life to the  fullest and to connect with the people in our group, was by far, the most incredible result of our experience. For me, it did a lot to reinforce my desire to follow my passion – to take youth around the world on life-changing expeditions that will teach them about themselves, help them reach beyond their limitations, to show them some of the earth’s most incredible places, and to inspire them to preserve them and the cultures of the people who live in them. This is my dream. And now, more than ever, I’m determined to make it happen.

Our arctic sunsets were some of the most spectacular I have ever seen. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball).

Our arctic sunsets were some of the most spectacular I have ever seen. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball).


Over the next several days, I’ll be blogging about my experience on this Arctic Expedition 2014. I want to share with you the things we saw, the things we learned, the experiences we had, the insights we had, and the stories that developed over our 15 days together (12 of which were onboard the Sea Adventurer, our floating home).

I hope you’ll come back to read more. And please pass the link to this blog to anyway you think would enjoying reading it. Thanks!


Me, aboard the Sea Adventurer, with a massie glacier in the background. Our wonderful ship's captain took us down some of the most incredible fjords in Greenland.

Me, aboard the Sea Adventurer, with a massie glacier in the background. Our wonderful ship’s captain took us down some of the most incredible fjords in Greenland.

Arctic Bound in 27 days!

Hey Everybody!

It’s been quiet here on the blog, sorry about that! It’s because I’ve been working 24/7 to prepare for the launch of our Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program on the upcoming Students On Ice arctic expedition. And we  begin our phenomenal adventure in only 27 days. Woweee! Still a TON of things to get done before the adventure begins, but I’m loving every minute of the preparation. Life sure is exciting!

With only 27 days until we leave for the arctic, the countdown begins. And so now I’ll posting here on the blog to let you know what’s happening. There is just SO much to share with you! The excitement is palpable! I wish I could take you all with  me. But the next closest thing is to share my journey with you through this blog and our Facebook page. So I hope you’ll tune in here regularly to see what’s happening.

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From now until the start of our incredible adventure on July 9th, I’ll be making daily posts here on the blog, so that you can enjoy this adventure with me. I’m hoping that I might be able to share the odd blog post while I’m  knee-deep in adventure, but we’ll be on an icebreaker in the arctic for two weeks, with very limited ability to communicate. As you may know, communication via satellite phone is really expensive. But I’m hoping to send out a few really brief updates. Otherwise, I’ll be posting like crazy as soon as I’m back. I’ll be just bursting to share my stories of adventure with you! I hope I’ll have a gazillion photos to share with you, some video clips, and so many great stories…

For now, I want to introduce you to our expedition. The expedition is being provided by Students On Ice. I’ll be one of 46 educators and staff who will be helping to provide 86 high school students (primarily from Canada and the U.S., but also from other parts of the world) with the adventure of a lifetime! We’ll be immersing them in everything arctic. There will be a focus on the environment, given that the arctic is change SO rapidly, due to global climate change and other factors. But that’s just a part of the experience. Students will learn about the arctic past, present and future. So they’ll learn about arctic history, culture, art, music, ecology, environmental change, politics, policy, geology, glaciology, and so much more!

Lauch_SOI exp page

To begin our countdown, I wanted to share with you the first postings on the Students On Ice 2014 Arctic Adventure website. It describes the route of our expedition – flying from Ottawa, Ontario to Kujjuaq, in northern Quebec. There, we will board the icebreaker which will take us to the coast of Labrador, to discover the Torngat Mountains National Park, where we’ll spend the first half of our adventure. The second half of the adventure will be spent exploring the southwest coast of Greenland, including some incredible fjords that are virtually unexplored.

To meet the team of educators and staff who will be helping to provide students with a life-changing experience, click HERE.

I hope you’ll tune in daily to see what’s new and exciting as we approach July 9th, the beginning of our arctic expedition, the launch of the Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program, and an experience of a lifetime!

We’d love to hear from you, so feel free to leave us a comment or question.

Yours in adventure,


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A very big THANK YOU!

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Our Indiegogo crowd funding campaign to raise funds to help cover the costs of launching our Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program has ended and I want to convey a very, very big and heartfelt thank you to everyone who contributed to our campaign with a donation. Regardless of the size of the donation, every one of them matters to us. And so we are grateful to each and every one of you for your support.

We didn’t reach our original goal which we knew was a really, really lofty one. But we put Plan B in place. And thanks to your support, with the money we raised, I (Shelley) will be on the arctic expedition this July, delivering our very first Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program.

I’ll be posting news about the upcoming expedition on my Biosphere Environmental Education website and here, on my Biosphere Blog. So be sure to tune in to see what’s happening. And when the expedition happens, I’ll be posting photos and stories about the adventure here on the blog.

In the meantime, I’ll be busy designing the details of the YEAP education modules as well as gathering needed equipment and getting lots of hours on my remote controlled quadcopter and rock crawler so that I’ll be ready to capture great video with them on the expedition.

We still have equipment we’ll need (SD and micro-SD cards for cameras, extra batteries, external microphone, to name a few) and so we’ll continue to fundraise until the expedition launch. We’ll be setting up a donate button on the Biosphere website. So be sure to pass on our info to people you know who would like to support such a great educational and environmental project. As always, we are SO grateful for all support we get!

Thanks again to everyone for their generous support.

All the best,


How YOU can help change the world

As you may know, from following the posts on my blog, I’ve been completely ensconced in a crowd funding campaign for the past 5 weeks. I’m raising funds to help defer the cost of an arctic expedition this July. Vacation? Nope.  Education.

As a biologist, the environment is really important to me. I don’t have kids and so I could say, “who cares, I don’t have kids, I don’t have to worry about what the next generation will have to deal with”, but that’s just not me. I don’t roll that way. I think everyone has a certain responsibility to the next generation, and the generation after that, and… Let’s face it, it’s my generation, my parents generation, my grandparents generation and to an extent, my great-grandparents generation that has screwed up the environment so badly. Don’t you think we owe it to the next generation to mop up some of the mess we created?

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The past 5 weeks has been revealing for me. I knew it would be a hard, hard slog raising the funds. My campaign is in the education section of the Indiegogo crowd funding website. Strike number one. I know this sounds pathetic, but the vast majority of people who would even consider donating to a crowd funding project don’t give a rats furry bottom about projects in the education or environment section. I’m not trying to be rude. That’s just the way it is. If you have a cool electronic gizmo to develop and sell, you’re golden. Tons of donations come in if you have a half decent campaign. But education and environment have typically been poorly supported. But why? I’m an optimist and a realist, but my experience with crowd funding has allowed a shade of pessimism to creep in. The sad truth is that not many people truly care about the environment or about education. They say they do, but when it comes right down to it, most people would much sooner have a way-cool, cutting age piece of electronics in their pocket, rather than build a school in Africa or support something that helps the environment. And to me, that is really sad.

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Yes, there are people out there who think education and the environment are important – thank goodness. And I am SO grateful for those people, regardless of whether they supported my funding campaign with a donation or someone else’s funding campaign. The fact that people care, matters to me a lot. But I still can’t get that bad taste out of my mouth about the lack of support or caring from the general public, about the environment or education. That just has to change if we’re to have future generations that don’t live in a cesspool.


As a scientists, I do believe that the earth has not yet reached her tipping point. I do believe that we can reverse a lot of the nasty things that we have done to the environment. And I do believe that it is possible for humans to live sustainably. But that means change. And let’s face it, most people hate change! I personally, thrive on it, but I know I’m a rarity. Most people despise change. They like things just the way they are. And so asking people to give something up, to change some aspect of their lifestyle to better the planet, is frankly, asking too much, it seems. At least for my generation. Frankly, I put my money on the next generation. They are the ones with their whole lives ahead. They are the ones that may have to live in the cesspool we leave for them. So they have to care. If they don’t, their lives will be a whole lot less pleasant than mine, or my parent’s, or my grandparent’s for that matter. And I hate that thought. It’s just downright wrong! But how do we get people to care?

I think I have a solution, well, actually, a small step toward a solution. And that’s why I’m fundraising. And it’s why I’m putting $8,000 of my own money (I hear retirement’s way over-rated anyway….) into paying my own way on an arctic expedition. Why? Some people think I’m nuts doing this. After all, I’m not getting paid to run my Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program on an arctic expedition. It’s purely volunteer. And I have to use my precious 2 weeks of annual vacation leave from work for it. But I choose to. Why? Because I care. Because I think each and every one of us, in some way or another, has to dosomething to reverse the damage our lifestyles have done to the planet.

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Will I change the entire world with my program? Nope. But change happens one student at a time. Real change happens slowly. And my goal is simply to open up some eyes and some minds, make the students think, and then hand the reins over to them to let them decide what they will and won’t do to make the planet a better place. After all, if I’m lucky, I’ve got 30 or so good years of life left. But the next generation will have to live with the mess a whole lot longer. I wish they didn’t have a mess to clean up. But I’m happy to do my part to try to help and to make amends for my impacts on the environment. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not up on a soapbox. I drive a car. I burn wood in my fireplace. I use Propane to heat my house. My life does have an impact on the environment. I do what I can to lessen it. But society as a whole, has to change. And if I can convince part of society to think about changing the way they live and help them to convince others to do the same, then that will be worth everything that I’m putting into this program.

If you believe that we can and should make the world a better place and you have a few bucks to spare, I would love it if you could make a donation to our Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program. There are only 3 days left in our funding campaign. I’ve revised our goal, from $25,000 (for both me and my co-teacher to go on the expedition) to just me going and me contributing $8,000 of my own retirement money. If you can help get us to our revised goal of $4,500 (we’re less than $1,000 away from it), I would be immensely grateful to you. Donate by clicking on the link below.

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Our crowd funding campaign – update

Hi Folks,

Our crowd funding campaign to raise the funds to launch our Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program (YEAP) in the arctic this summer is progressing nicely, but we still have a long way to go. We’re hovering around the $2,000 mark, but we need to raise $25,000. We have 31 days left to reach our goal.

Your support is VERY important to us! We need it to get myself and my co-teacher, Angela, on the arctic expedition with Students On Ice, to run our first every YEAP. We really want to make a difference – inspire a generation of change. A generation that values the environment and sees people and the planet as just as important as profits. It is possible to live sustainably. But it will take the next generation to get us there. So please supporting our crowd funding campaign by clicking HERE.

It takes just three mouse clicks to donate:

1. Go to our campaign webpage.

2. Look at the donation levels and PERKS on the right hand side of the page and choose the one that you are most comfortable with. Remember, every donation gets a thank you gift – ranging from an e-postcard to a limited edition signed fine art print. Once you’ve found the donation level you like, click on it and it will take you to a secure payment page where you can choose to pay by credit card or Paypal.

3. Once you’ve entered in your details, just click to confirm your payment and you’re done! And, you’re just supported an entire generation with your donation.

Remember that your donation isn’t just for this expedition. By supporting this inaugural run of the YEAP in the arctic this summer, we’ll have the experiences, stories, and photos we need to then to funding pitches to the corporate world. Our goal is to obtain a significant amount of corporate funding to further develop the YEAP. We would like our second YEAP to be on an expedition to Antarctica! And after that, the world is our oyster. We’ll be taking high school kids all over the world, to see the earth’s natural environments – see their beauty, their value, record those things in their photos and videos, and then create stunning visual presentations of their experiences to share with the world. This is where students become Environmental Ambassadors – using their own photos and video to share with the world, their messages of why and how we need to make the changes necessary to live sustainably. It is possible! We just need your support to get things rolling.


Thank you for your support,

Shelley & Angela


Help Make This The New Classroom…

This is where education needs to happen. Where kids can see things with their own eyes, touch things with their hands, hear the sounds, smell the scents, and feel the freeze on their face

This is where education needs to happen. Where kids can see things with their own eyes, touch things with their hands, hear the sounds, smell the scents, and feel the freeze on their face

Studies show that students benefit from experiential learning – learning done outside, beyond the confines of four walls. It is learning that is hands. And involves all the senses.

Take it from someone who struggled all the way through primary school. Not all kids learn the same way. It look me a long time to figure out the learning style that suited me. But once I did, I started to enjoy school, do well, and went on to do a PhD in biology and become a university professor.

My own experiences have had a big influence on my role as a teacher. And it is because of this and my passion for our planet’s natural environments that led me to shift my focus to experiential learning. My own experiences through my post-secondary schooling have taken me to amazing places – the subarctic of Churchill, Manitoba, the dessert southwest of the United States, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the tropical forests of Central America, and the rich coastal habitats of New Zealand. Those experiences changed my life. They connected me with nature. They showed me different cultures. They showed me the beauty of nature and its value in our lives. And all of that made me want to preserve all of those incredible places I visited.

It is my passion for biology and my experiences of visiting these incredible natural places on earth that were the motivation for me to create the Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program. It is a program focused on two things. One, connecting youth with nature. Getting them outside, to some incredible places on our planet, to see things that most people would never see. Two, to nurture that connection to the point that youth care about the environment, enough to want to preserve it. Frankly, their future depends on it. We currently do not live sustainably. Human impacts on the planet are large. But that can’t continue indefinitely. The next generation will have to find solutions to the problems that my generation, and those before mine, created. Inspiring kids to care and to actually do something is important. And so this is why our program has experiential education at its core. Our aim is to get kids to remote places around the world. Places where they can see nature with fewer human impacts on them that where they live. Places with beauty so stunning that they will want to preserve it.

A unique aspect of our program is that we use photography and videography to teach kids about the environment. We teach them the technical and creative aspects of it. We show them the intricate details of nature. And then we help them learn how to capture that in pixels. We then teach students how to create stunning visual presentations. And when those are ready, we’ll teach them how to present those to anyone who will listen – their schools, their clubs, their communities, but most importantly, their peers. Kids don’t really like learning from adults. And they learn better when they are taught by kids their own age. So that’s what our program strives to do. It turns kids into teachers. It turns kids into environmental ambassadors. Our program helps kids share their own messages of the need for positive environmental change, using their images and video and their words. It empowers them to feel that they actually can do things that will make a difference. These are the kids that will become our next world citizens. Voters and consumers. But also up and coming CEO’s, politicians, teachers, and parents.

Our YEAP mission statement is: to mentor a new generation of leaders, innovators, and world citizens who believe that the long term health of earth’s environments is at least as important as profits and development, and who will guide their generation toward a sustainable way of living.

And that is why we are currently engaged in an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign, trying to raise $25,000 to get me and my co-teacher on an arctic expedition with 80 high school students, to launch our first ever Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program. We have been very fortunate to be collaborating with Students On Ice, an award-winning organization that runs youth expeditions to the arctic and antarctic. We’ve been given the chance to pilot our YEAP on the July 2014 arctic expedition. And so this is why we need your help!

We have 32 days left of our funding campaign. We’ve raised almost $2,000 but that’s a long way from our $25,000 goal. So we need YOUR support. Please visit our crowd funding website and please donate. Pick a donation level that you are comfortable with. There is a thank you gift for your donation, depending on the amount you donate.

In addition to your donation, we also need you to spread the word. The more people we reach, the more donations we’ll get. And each of those donations gets us one step closer to our funding goal and more importantly, to creating a transformational experience for youth, inspiring a generation of positive environmental support.


Thank you for your support.