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Northeast Passage: Restocking in Pevek

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This summer, WWF is helping support two expeditions that will take on some of the world’s most difficult waters, to see first-hand the effects of Arctic climate change. One expedition is sailing across the top of Russia, a journey of 6000 nautical miles through the Northeast Passage, while another is attempting a west to east transit of the Northwest Passage, also by sailing boat, a journey of about 7,000 nautical miles.

Tom Arnbom of Sweden was on the ‘Explorer of Sweden’ though the Northeast Passage, as was WWF Arctic Programme Director Neil Hamilton for much of the trip, replaced near the end by WWF polar bear coordinator Geoff York. On the ‘Silent Sound’ Cameron Dueck of the Open Passage Expedition is filing regular stories from the Northwest passage. Come back for photos and stories throughout the summer, and follow the progress of the boats as they follow in the wake of some of history’s most intrepid explorers.

By Geoff York

Pevek, Russia, as seen on Google MapsPevek, Russia, as seen on Google Maps

The winds have finally let down as I sit alone in the dark boat for my anchor watch. The outside temperature is -1 C. My ship mates are sleeping soundly after two straight days and nights of rough seas. The boat is sitting across the bay from Pevek and the town is lit up much like any modern town, except this is truly remote country. I watch the lights of a vehicle on the outskirts of the settlement. As I look across the water, I am again struck by the commonalities of northern communities across the Arctic and among northern people. Though indigenous people perfected living strategies for this region, for most of us, life in the north would be a tremendous challenge.

We dock in the early morning and meet with the local authorities. It is also a good chance to restock with any available vegetables. The store is well stocked and we buy onions, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and even some tomatoes. In its heyday, Pevek was a city of 14,000 people. Today, it is about 4,000 and appears much more active than Tiksi. The reason is soon made clear: gold. A new gold mine is operating just south of town and in two years has already extracted 18 tons of gold we are told by the border guards.

There are no roads connected to this place, only seasonal ship access and air travel. Pevek, like many northern communities, is wholly dependent on resources from outside to maintain their fuel and commodity reserves.  Just down from where we are docked, a bulk container ship is offloading coal, adding to an already huge stockpile. New machinery and supplies for the mine are stacked all around. I wonder what Pevek will look like when the gold runs out. What and who will be left behind?

We finish our business in short order, make our farewells, and head back to sea.

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