11/7/2013 2:00:53 PM

My Planet, My Part Winner Moved by Churchill Experience

By Marie Baer

In 2011 I watched an episode of the BBC's Human Planet, which focused on life in the Arctic and showed how people in the subarctic town of Churchill, Manitoba, had learned to co-exist with polar bears. I was fascinated to witness how a bear, dangling in a net off the base of a helicopter, was flown out onto the northern ice sheets of Hudson Bay. To see such a mighty and graceful animal looking so vulnerable made me feel emotional.

Little did I know that I was going to visit the remote village of Churchill myself one day and see polar bears with my own eyes. Last year, I was lucky to win the My Planet, My Part competition run by Polar Bears International, and on October 18th, 2013, I finally flew out to Churchill. Words and photos fail to convey what it felt like to observe the world's mightiest predator in its natural habitat. The tour, run by Frontiers North Adventures, lasted five days and saw me roam the tundra in a massive custom-built Tundra Buggy® whilst observing polar bears as they walked, slept, and stretched. I also got to meet a range of interesting individuals and visited museums and informational centers in the Churchill area. A local husky musher gave me a ride through the snowy forest and photographer Mike Macri stunned me with his pictures of lonely landscapes and local wildlife.

For me it was a reflective journey that made me think about climate change. The Arctic has been warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and although not every bear seems to be suffering, it became clear that locals have seen the bears and their habitat deteriorate. Mike Macri, for example, told us that he felt lucky to photograph a female polar bear with three cubs, as this has become very rare.

As polar bears face an uncertain future, we can all make choices that have a less damaging effect on global warming, or simply just care a little more about the world we will leave for generations to come. Visiting Churchill made that ever so clear to me. Thanks to Polar Bears International, this was an unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience that will stay with me forever.

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