By Zoë Caron
The excitement was palpable in Ottawa’s beautifully restored Museum of Nature. Eighty university and high school students from 5 countries grinned through a “speed dating” session with the 35 authors, artists, elders, media celebrities, polar scientists, educators and researchers accompanying them on an adventure of a lifetime.
The group was launching Students on Ice’s 2010 Arctic Youth Expedition, a ship-based circumpolar adventure aimed at raising awareness about global warming – and inspiring the next generation of polar scientists, researchers and environmentalists. Comprised of students from all three Canadian territories (a quarter of the total), eight Canadian provinces and four other countries, the group flew to Kuujjuaq in Nunavik on Friday to board the Polar Ambassador.
This year’s trip coincides with several environmental and northern initiatives: the Year of the Inuit, International Year of Biodiversity and International Polar Year.
The ship will take the students to several arctic sites including Pagnirtung, Diana Island, Digges and Walrus Islands, Cape Dorset and North shore Hudson Strait. It also drops anchor at one of Canada’s most spectacular parks, Auyuittuq National Park, and the breathtaking Kingnait Fjord.
Founder of Students on Ice, Geoff Green, proudly noted that the award-winning program has attracted wide support since its inaugural voyage ten years ago, resulting in full funding for 85% of these students. The trip costs $9,750 for participants.
The teens, between 14 and 19, see first-hand the effects of climate change on arctic habitats through wildlife encounters and visits to remote communities and archaeological sites. Workshops, discussions and lectures are designed to educate and encourage the students to be effective agents of change when they return home.
Many of the students have never been to the Arctic but the two dozen students who call it home will be gaining new perspectives by sharing the experiences with others.
CBC’s anchor and chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, who is taking part in the expedition with his son, lamented that so few Canadians knew anything about the Arctic.
Zoë Caron, climate change policy and advocacy specialist for WWF-Canada, is on board the ship. “Being within metres of a polar bear, seeing a proposed oil drilling site, or spending time in northern communities – these are all transformative experiences,” she said.