Back on the Tundra with Tundra Connections

11/10/2011 2:32:29 PM

Back on the Tundra with Tundra Connections

 Bear on tundra

"Certainties and Uncertainties" - that was the title of the Tundra Connections webcast we held on Tuesday. And that's pretty much how I feel every year when I return to Churchill. There are some things of which I can be certain, and there are some things that are completely uncertain. In other words, Welcome to the Tundra!

CERTAINTIES: The town of Churchill is a unique, quaint town with wonderfully friendly residents. Seeing the PBI family again is always like a big family reunion with lots of hugs, lots of laughter, lots of food, and lots of amazing, passionate, and brilliant people doing great work. I always learn so much while I am here. And, you must be ready to adapt and be flexible in all that you do. After all, that's what life requires in the remote areas of the far north.

UNCERTAINTIES: What will the temperature be in Churchill this November? Will ice have formed on the Hudson Bay yet? Will there be lots of polar bears migrating through the area—and will they be healthy? Who are the new people I'll meet this year?

Close-up of polar bear

I've been coming to this area for the past four years, and it's always so exciting to be one of the lucky few who have the great gift of being able to see the magnificent polar bears in their natural habitat. The icing on the cake is that I can share the experience with thousands of teachers, students, and people from all over the world! This animal is incredible to watch, and witnessing the effects that climate change and the resulting diminished sea ice has had on the health of these bears is heartbreaking. But, the good news is ... that there can still be good news! If we all work together to reduce our carbon footprints, reduce CO2, and thus protect our planet, we can save the bears and their habitat.

Snow is beginning to fall on the tundra, and the weather is starting to get colder. However, no ice has yet formed on the bay, which is critical for the polar bears to begin to feed again. Many of the bears we are seeing are thin and showing signs of distress. Today, however, we did see a mom and her cub who were relatively healthy looking. Several bears have been sighted in the area where we have traveled, and they are waiting to migrate onto the frozen Hudson Bay once the ice has formed. At that time, they can once again start the hunting of seals and begin to feed. We had a very unique sighting of a gyrfalcon, which is the largest of the falcon species. It was very majestic, especially when it took flight. Even the experienced, professional photographers from this area were very excited to be able to capture photos of this beautiful, large bird.


The people I've met in just the first few days of my stay here have been great! Some of these people, who are all passionate about polar bears, are Dr. Larry Johnson of the New Media Consortium; Dr. Cecilia Bitz, a University of Washington professor specializing in climate change and sea ice changes; zoo directors and staff from many amazing zoos in North America; Laura Castro de la Guardia, a graduate student from the University of Alberta working on the changes in Hudson Bay sea ice; and the creators of the Pearls of the Planet and members of the Annenberg Foundation. It's amazing to meet so many people doing such amazing work ... all related to their passion for preserving the polar bears.

And, finally, I am again so proud of the great work that is done by the people involved in the Tundra Connections program, both staff and volunteers. We are, once again, reaching thousands of people around the world—educators, students, and the general public—with our message through webcasts and video conferences. And, yes, it's a message of hope! Because, if we all individually take action to reduce our carbon footprints wherever we live, then we can stop climate change. In that way, the generations who follow us in the years to come will also be able to visit Churchill and experience the magic of the great white bear, the polar bear.

Cheers from Churchill!

Photos by Julene Reed.

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