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Hello to the Students in Suva, Fiji

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12 Aug 2010
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Today’s blog is a note to the Suva Christian Community High School in Fiji. Students at this school have written to the SOI team with a number of questions about the Arctic which will be answered by the students on the voyage. The high school will also be involved in GRID-Arendal’s Portraits of Resilience photography project in which students write short essays and learn to take photos describing the effects of climate change in the their region (for more information, see www.manystrongvoices.org/portraits).

12 August 2010
64N, 73S

Hello to the Students in Suva, Fiji –

We are sailing west along the south coast of Baffin Island towards the Davis Strait which separates Nunavut, Canada’s Arctic territory, from Greenland. It is a beautiful sunny day – very warm for this latitude but it has been a very warm summer in the Arctic. Some of the students are out on the stern deck of our ship, the Lyubov Orlova, working and relaxing in the sunshine (they seem to be able to do both). To the north I can see the southern edge of the huge island of Baffin. Ice bergs drift in the distance – we passed a fairly large one this morning, the first close up sighting of the trip. There isn’t much ice around this summer, at least not here in the Hudson Strait.

It’s been an interesting trip with several trips in rubber rafts called zodiacs and many sightings of wildlife, including a trip around Walrus Island two mornings ago. There we saw about 1,000 walrus lounging in the sun on the barren, rocky island. They go there in the summer and stay together until the ice reforms in the winter. They are one of the largest marine mammals and can weigh up to 2000 pounds. Like the polar bear, which also lives and hunts on the ice for much of the year, walrus could be in trouble if the climate here keeps warming.

Climate change is happening very rapidly up here. The temperatures in parts of the Arctic have risen dramatically. Multi-year sea ice, which is important because it reflects a lot of solar radiation back into the atmosphere, is dropping even faster than predicted just a few years ago. As more ocean is exposed to the summer sun, it absorbs more heat and the cycle of melting accelerates.

All of this affects the people who live up here, the Inuit, because they rely on the fish, birds and animals for a large portion of their diet. These “country foods” are also very important from a cultural point of view as well. We are exploring some of the connections in several community visits. There are no roads between communities in the Arctic and so people fly in and out by airplane. When our ship calls in, it’s a big event.

Yesterday, we spent the afternoon in the community of Cape Dorset, which is famous for its carving and printmaking (search on the internet and you’ll see what I mean). We came ashore in our small boats and walked up the beach to an open area where the people had gathered to welcome us and share their food. There was seal and Arctic charr, a delicious fish that resembles salmon. Both are eaten raw and so many students from the southern parts of Canada, the United States, and other countries got to try something quite new. For the Northern students – those from Nunavut and other places in the Canadian Arctic – the food and community sights and sounds were very familiar.

As I walked into the crowd I spotted a man who didn’t look like he came from the community. We started talking and it turned out he was from Fiji and he was in the town of 1500 for a week with members of a group named Island Breeze who were there to perform and get to know the community. The other performers were from New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa. After several local women performed some traditional Inuit throat singing (look this up too), the performers from the South Pacific got out their instruments and sang traditional songs from, well, your region. Everyone loved it and our students commented on the fact that they came all the way to the Arctic to hear music from the South Pacific.

I guess the world isn’t that big after all. We will write again soon.

All the best,
John Crump

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