Polar Bears International

11/6/2013 8:19:24 PM

Citizen Science for the Future

By Jadelys Tonos

I arrived in Churchill in late October as an intern for Polar Bears International. Having been raised in the Caribbean and currently just barely surviving the Indiana winters, I was very excited, but a little nervous about this new northern adventure I had embarked on. I was coming to Churchill, traveling the furthest north I have ever been, to volunteer for PBI's Citizen Science Project. Through this experience I was going to be exposed to the Arctic tundra, I was going to get the opportunity to assist in a very exciting new research project and would also be interacting with the people at the forefront of polar bear conservation and research as well as climate change research and mitigation. So, as I got off my flight at Churchill's cozy little airport, you can imagine that I was a little nervous.

Everything that has happened since then has been truly amazing. Over these past 10 days I have been assisting Cassandra Debets, the graduate student leading the project, on her daily data collection trips. Every morning we set off on a Tundra Buggy® to record the body condition, sex, and age of every polar bear we see. We also get the opportunity to interact with the Tundra Buggy® guests by answering their questions and encouraging their participation in our data collection. In this way, we are not only conducting research that will benefit polar bear conservation efforts, but we are educating, and hopefully, inspiring the guests to act for the protection of polar bears and their environment.

My time here in Churchill working with PBI has been life changing. For a soon-to-graduate college student this experience has been invaluable. Working with the individuals of this organization, who all share a common passion and who are all dedicated to making a difference any way they can, has allowed me to gain a better understanding of the kind of work I want to do when I "grow up." PBI, Churchill and the polar bears may not be a part of my future career in conservation but they will always serve as an inspiration for my work. Being a warm climate girl, I am glad I was given the chance to fall in love with the tundra ecosystem. I would have always supported the protection of the tundra habitat but now I have seen the polar bears, the Arctic foxes and the snowy owl surviving in this harsh but beautiful environment, and that will forever serve as a reminder of what we hope to protect.

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