7/17/2012 4:51:38 PM

Days of Miracle and Wonder

Svalbard is a long way away from home. Most places are, though, and the ease of jet travel makes almost everywhere accessible. Ease of travel does not prepare us, however, for the change in place. After all, a place is defined as much by how we take it in as a point on a map, and I will say that Svalbard was difficult to take in at first.

Mother and cubs against a dramatic backdrop in Svalbard

Summer is the time of the midnight sun. It's a bit disorienting to wake up at 3 a.m and have it be as light as it was at 12 noon. The scale of this place is also epic. The mountains and fjords, the glaciers and colors, the barren landscape interspersed with pockets of tremendous productivity, all take some adjustment.

Henry photographing plants

All journeys start with a single step and if you launch yourself into it, you are generally rewarded. We have been rewarded in spades. The first day began with fog and rain which is less than auspicious for a cameraman but it ended in a zodiac tour next to a bird cliff with thousands of nesting birds and a slow meander past a calving glacier that showed us our first glimpse of the tremendous blue ice that predates the colonization of North America but we see everywhere here.

 Glaucous gulls on ice

From there, we:

  • Sat on a beach next to walruses
  • Sailed up to the pack ice to see polar bears (or ice bears as Europeans call them) sharing their seal kills with ivory gulls
  • Braved four foot waves in zodiacs to mingle with walrus mothers and their pups
  • Got on the ice with more bears
  • Skirted a 150-foot cliff face of solid ice for hundreds of kilometers
  • Smelled the breath of feeding humpback whales
  • Filmed arctic terns feeding their chicks
  • And watched arctic fox kits play like puppies just yards away

 Arctic fox kits playing

These islands and fjords are home to amazing birds, mammals, fish, and plants. A single cliff face that serves as a rookery for kittiwakes and auks may be home to 250,000 individual birds. Whales and sea birds migrate thousands of miles to reach this area because it has such productive waters in the summer. And the shores serve as a landing spot for bears whose multi-year sea ice home is fast disappearing—a home they need for access to seals.

 Brunnich's guillemots

As climate change causes shifts in environments, most of these species will face a dire future. That's why it is so important for us to take whatever steps we can to think about our impact on the earth and act to minimize it. If you are reading this post, you and many of your friends are probably already doing many things to reduce your footprint on the planet but you can always do one more thing. Speak up. Tell your friends and family about what you are doing to green up your lives and encourage them to do the same. After all, it isn't just the Arctic that we are trying to save, it's our own homes.

A polar bear rests with a full belly after a seal kill

Our thanks to Polar Kreuzfahrten for hosting photographer Kt Miller and Henry Harrison as they gather still photographs and HD footage for PBI's film library. Photos copyright Kt Miller and Henry Harrison/Polar Bears International.

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