Arctic Expedition 2014 – the story of our adventure…sailing from Kuujjuaq

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On July 12th, Day 4 of our adventure, we woke super early, gathered up all of our gear and headed for the school buses, which took us to the Ottawa International Airport. There we loaded our mountain of gear and hoped that we weren’t about to overpack our First Air charter flight. It’s happened on previous expeditions, apparently. Sucks to be on the tarmac, scratching your forehead and wondering what to leave behind because the plane just can’t handle the weight of all of it. In the end, it was beer bottles that were left behind. But that’s another story that I’ll tell a little later. And it does have a happy ending.

The excitement over the start of the northern part of our adventure was palpable, despite the early hour of the morning

The excitement over the start of the northern part of our adventure was palpable, despite the early hour of the morning

 

Our charter flight was headed to Kuujjuaq, a remote community on Ungava Bay, in northern Quebec. Our ship would be waiting for us in the bay. And we were so anxious to get on board and begin the expedition component of our adventure together. Our flight time from Ottawa to Kuujjuaq was about two hours.

Boarding a flight from Ottawa to Kuujjuaq in the early morning. The air was buzzing with excitement.

Boarding a flight from Ottawa to Kuujjuaq in the early morning. The air was buzzing with excitement.

Welcome to Kuujjuaq in northern Quebec. Population ~ 2,400.

Welcome to Kuujjuaq in northern Quebec. Population ~ 2,400.

We arrived to overcast skies, much cooler temperatures than we’d had in Ottawa, and an incredible landscape. We walked about a mile from the airport to the town’s community centre and then had a walk around town, headed down to the beach and then back to the community centre for a BBQ that the town had put on for us. Youth from our expedition connected with local youth and soon, friendly challenges of Inuit games and rapping and beatbox were being exchanged.

The village of Kuujjuaq, home to some of the students on our SOI expedition.

The village of Kuujjuaq, home to some of the students on our SOI expedition.

 

Stretching our legs on the beach and enjoying the fresh, cool air.

Stretching our legs on the beach and enjoying the fresh, cool air.

After a few hours in town it was time to head for our ship, the Sea Adventurer. She had come upriver a bit and anchored, waiting for our arrival. But we still had about a 30 minute zodiac ride to get to her. Exciting! Our first ride in the zodiacs! As we sped down river, the wind in our hair and the northern sun on our faces, the rhythmic bouncing of the zodiac on the waves, we soaked up the scenery as we went.

The shoreline as we headed downstream, from Kuujjuaq, towards the Sea Adventurer, our floating home for the next 12 days.

The shoreline as we headed downstream, from Kuujjuaq, towards the Sea Adventurer, our floating home for the next 12 days.

The landscape around Kuujjuaq and along the river is rugged. Kuujjuaq is located just at the edge of the boreal forest treelike. So you see some trees to the south, but they are small spruces. And the treelike quickly disappears as you head north. The shoreline is rocky and rugged. Looking out onto the massive pieces of rock, one expected to see a polar bear lumbering across the landscape.

The rocky and rugged shoreline near Kuujjuaq

The rocky and rugged shoreline near Kuujjuaq

The crevices in this ancient rock creates its own version of art

The crevices in this ancient rock creates its own version of art

Leaving the tree line behind us, the ruggedness of the landscape seemed more apparent

Leaving the tree line behind us, the ruggedness of the landscape seemed more apparent

As we made our way down river in the zodiacs, everyone was pretty quiet. Talking above the sound of the outboard motor was difficult. But part of the silence was that we were all just taking in our surroundings. For many on the expedition, this was the farthest north they had ever been. The magnitude and magnificence of the landscape was something many had not experienced before and none of us could help but just look and watch as we sped along.

Our first zodiac ride of the expedition. One of many, but in some ways, the most exciting as we had no idea what adventures awaited us.

Our first zodiac ride of the expedition. One of many, but in some ways, the most exciting as we had no idea what adventures awaited us.

As we headed down river towards our ship, we began to notice camps dotted across the landscape. One of our northern students said that families were out on the land now, hunting and camping.

Temporary camps along the river

Camps along the river

Many of these temporary camps consist of canvas tents

Many of these are temporary camps with canvas tents

 

As we sped downriver, the outline of our ship came into view. And as we got closer, it’s size and magnificence became apparent. It was hard to believe this would be home for the next 11 days! There was definitely a palpable excitement in the air as the zodiacs circled, waiting their turn to tie up to the ship’s platform and step aboard.

Arriving at our new  floating home, the Sea Adventurer

Arriving at our new floating home, the Sea Adventurer

The Sea Adventurer, is a 100 m long ship with an A-1 ice class rating. So technically, it’s not an icebreaker, but its reinforced hull can find its way through plenty of  ‘bergy bits’ that often litter the waters of the northern Labrador coastline in July.

Total excitement as we are greeted by those already on the Sea Adventurer

Total excitement as we are greeted by those already on the Sea Adventurer

Welcome aboard!

Welcome aboard!

The Sea Adventurer, with 10 zodiacs that allowed us to get to shore to explore

The Sea Adventurer, with 10 zodiacs that allowed us to get to shore to explore

The Sea Adventurer staff had already kindly installed all of our luggage in our cabins by the time we arrived. Our cabins were tidy, modern and comfortable. Sure, they’re small, but we were just there to sleep (and as we’d find out, grab whatever rare nap-time could be stolen during our busy days).

Our two person cabin. Very comfortable and a great sized window for iceberg watching.

Our two person cabin. Very comfortable and a great sized window for iceberg watching.

I remember on Day 1 of our adventure, during our introduction, Geoff Green was describing the Sea Adventurer. His comment was that this ship is far, far too nice for us on us. Ya, sure. 😉 It wasn’t until I began to explore around the ship and came upon the dinning room that I understood what Geoff meant. Just peeking into the dinning room, I felt as if I should have brought my evening gown on this arctic expedition! Note to self for next time – don’t just pack the rubber boots and blackfly jacket, include evening wear as well. 😉

Our ship's dinning room - not what I expected on an arctic expedition, but hey, I'm not complaining! ;)

Our ship’s dinning room – not what I expected on an arctic expedition, but hey, I’m not complaining! 😉

But it gets better. Not only is the dinning room fancy-schmancy, but all of the serving staff were wearing tuxes. And they were the most incredibly friendly people. By the end of the expedition, we’d all become friends. And… we certainly didn’t starve during our expedition. How could one starve while eating 5-course meals for dinner, for 12 days? Seriously! They fed us 5 course meals for dinner! Breakfast and lunch were buffets. And all I can say is that the food was phenomenal! I normally don’t eat dessert, but I did for these 12 days! Although I just couldn’t bring myself to eat the delicate pastry that was shaped like a swan. Seriously, it was ‘pastry origami’! Talk about roughing it on our arctic expedition. 😉

I didn't think you'd believe me about the 5 course meals, so here's the menu from lunch

I didn’t think you’d believe me about the 5 course meals, so here’s the menu from lunch

And…. the menu from dinner one night… some evenings we ate fresh arctic char that members of our expedition had caught that day.

And dinner. Oh... how we suffered! ;)

And dinner. Oh… how we suffered! 😉

Here's more of how we suffered. Dessert one night. I think it was a blueberry cheesecake, but I can't remember because my head is still swirling with delight. Oh so many desserts...

Here’s more of how we suffered. Dessert one night. I think it was a blueberry cheesecake, but I can’t remember because my head is still swirling with delight. Oh so many desserts…

After dinner, I wandered up on deck with my camera, soaking in the fresh evening air as we made our way through Ungava Bay. The land disappeared and the open water lay before us. As the sun began to sink in the sky, many of us took some time on deck to jus have some quiet time to ourselves, to reflect on all that had happened up to this point and what our next 11 days would be like.

Time to reflect as we leave head out of Ungava Bay

Time to reflect as we leave head out of Ungava Bay

Watching land disappear...

Watching land disappear…

And the sun sink low in the sky. It never got completely dark because we were so far north. But we were treated to some of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever seen.

And the sun sink low in the sky. It never got completely dark because we were so far north. But we were treated to some of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen.

This is how our days ended. Falling into bed, tired from the days activities. But what more could you ask for... arriving in your cabin to find your bed turned down and a mint sitting there.

This is how our days ended. Falling into bed, tired from the days activities. But what more could you ask for… arriving in your cabin to find your bed turned down and a mint sitting there.

Our floating home, the Sea Adventurer, was INCREDIBLE. All of the staff were more than outstanding. So friendly, courteous, the food was out of this world. The cabins so comfortable. We all complained when we got home that our beds at home seemed not to be nearly so comfortable as those on the ship. Our captain was phenomenal. You’ll hear more about him later and how he’s given us the adventure of a lifetime.

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Tune in  next time for the first BIG day of our adventure, exploring the beauty of the Labrador coastline…

Arctic Expedition 2014: Starts tomorrow!

Just a quick note everyone to let you know that our Arctic Expedition begins tomorrow. We’ll spend 3 days in Ottawa and then fly to Kuujjuaq in northern Qubec to board our icebreaker.

We’ll only have sat phone connection to home while we’re at sea. But Students On Ice will be posting updates on their blog. So be sure to tune in HERE to follow our expedition.

I’m packed and ready to roll early in the morning. I’ll be helping to collect students from the airport as their flights arrive in Ottawa. I can’t wait to meet our 86 amazing students.

Time for an adventure! 🙂

 

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Arctic Expedition 2014: Visual Storytelling – the power of photography…

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My role on this Students On Ice arctic expedition is one of educator. All of us who will fill that role will also contribute to the success of the expedition in other ways, helping with many aspects of daily activities and logistics. But as educators, our primary role is to deliver outstanding educational workshops and activities for the students.

I will be teaching environmental communication. You’re probably thinking, what the heck is that?  Environmental communication uses tools such as photography and video to inform ands to connect with the general public on environmental issues. Our planet faces a number of significant environmental issues such as climate change, habitat loss, species extinction, pollution (including plastic pollution in our oceans), ocean acidification and the dying-off of coral reefs. These are just some of the major issues facing us today.

Plastic garbage that has made its way into the world oceans is responsible for the death of albatross chicks in a colony on Midway Island.

Plastic garbage that has made its way into the world oceans is responsible for the death of albatross chicks in a colony on Midway Island. Image copyright Shelley L. Ball, 44th Parallel Photography

The problem is that if people don’t feel like their daily lives are affected by these issues, then they don’t believe they exist. It’s just the way the human brain works – it’s that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thing. But no matter where in the world we live, our lives are affected by these things. It’s just that for some things, the impacts are less obvious for some of the world’s population, compared to others. Or we experience the indirect or trickle-down effects of these things rather than the direct impacts, at least for now. Or the impacts happen so far from us (geographically) that we don’t see them and so they don’t get our attention. A good example of this is the melting of the world’s glaciers and the impact this will have on global sea level and other aspects of our environment. If we don’t see it happening in our own neighbourhood, then we tend not to think about it.

This is where environmental communication comes in and specifically, photography and videography. You’ve heard the expression, ‘ a picture is worth a thousand words’?  As humans, we rely on vision to understand the world around us. This is why photographs can have such impact. When we see something with our own eyes, we are more likely to understand it, to believe it, to relate to it. And some images can even evoke strong emotional responses in us. Strong images can make us care.

It’s this emotional response that is important. Without it, people tune out. They forget about things. But have you ever seen a photo that made you cry? I bet the impact of that photo stayed with you for a few days, if not for months or years or even a lifetime. Images have the power to impact us in that way.

The cover of National Geographic's 125th anniversary edition. Their features on The Power Of Photography are a fabulous example of how photography can inform us, connect us, inspire us and motivate us to take action on environmental and social issues.

The cover of National Geographic’s 125th anniversary edition. Their features on The Power Of Photography are a fabulous example of how photography can inform us, connect us, inspire us and motivate us to take action on environmental and social issues.

I believe that visual images can play a huge role in helping us to understand the impacts of our planet’s environmental issues and the urgent need to take action to halt these impacts. For over 125 years, National Geographic has been doing this – using photography to take us to parts of the globe we have never been before (or may never visit) . They inform us about environmental and social issues in places far from us. Their goal is to motivate us to care enough to do something about these issues. And now that we are in the digital age, National Geographic publishes their magazine digitally (for iPad). We no longer just ‘read’ NatGeo magazine, we experience it. This include video clips, 3D animations, and interactive tools to ‘read’ a story. You just need to look at the October 2013 digital edition of National Geographic magazine to understand the impact photography (and video) can have on informing people about global issues, getting them to care, and getting them to take action.

Copyright France Rivet, Polar Horizons. Used with permission.

Copyright France Rivet, Polar Horizons. Used with permission.

This is why I’m teaching environmental communication on this arctic expedition. I think photography and videography are tools that are critical to addressing the planet’s environmental issues. And who better to use these than the younger generation – the one that will spend the bulk of their lives dealing with the environmental issues that currently face our planet. I’ll be teaching them how to shoot photographs with impact. How to shoot and edit video and to produce their own short documentary-style videos. And I hope they will become ambassadors of the environment – visual storytellers for the environment – sharing their experiences and their messages about the arctic – its wildlife, its landscapes, its people and the rapid changes the arctic is experiencing as a result of global climate change. This is why I have named my program, the Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program. I hope that the students will share the stories of their first-hand experiences not just with their family, their friends and their peers. I hope they will share them with the world. I hope my program inspires them to take action on our planet’s environmental issues and that they inspire others to do the same.

Arctic Expedition 2014: our environmental education program

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I’m so excited to be one of 46 educators and staff on the 2014 Students On Ice arctic expedition. Those of us who are educators will be delivering educational program to the students during our 12 days aboard the icebreaker, while we explore Labrador and Greenland. We’ll have zodiacs to get ashore so that we can get out onto the land and show the students first hand, the incredible beauty, fragility, and value of the arctic.

In my role as biologist, environmental educator and visual storyteller, I’ll be launching our Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program, teaching photography and videography to students. Specifically, I’ll be teaching the students the tools of environmental communication. They will be learning to use their cameras to capture the beauty of the arctic landscape, ecosystems, culture and history. And then they’ll learn how to assemble their photos and videos to create professional presentations about the arctic environment that they can share with their schools, clubs and the world.

So I’m busy creating a series of educational workshops that I’ll be teaching and still assembling the equipment I need. Busy times! But I can’t wait to get aboard that ship and begin working with the students. I think it’ll be an experience of a lifetime not just for them, but for me too!

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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!

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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,

Shelley

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