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Climate Change & Biodiversity Priorities for Arctic Council

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Photo Credit: Quark passenger Al Gellin

The preservation of Arctic heritage and the environment is incredibly important for us at Quark Expeditions and we're incredibly grateful for the work done by organizations like the Arctic Council. As their second annual Senior Arctic Officials (SAO) Canadian Chairmanship meeting in Yellowknife approaches, we want to share with you some of the excellent work they've undertaken to ensure the Arctic can be enjoyed for generations to come.

What is the Arctic Council (AC)?

The Arctic Council is a high-level, intergovernmental forum established in 1996, with member states Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US. Their mission is to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among these Arctic states, to promote sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. AC involves Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants in their many projects, including six working groups dedicated to specific aspects of Arctic preservation.

Canada currently leads the Arctic Council, having assumed the Chairmanship from 2013-2015. The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq serves as Canada's Minister for the Arctic Council. Aglukkaq is herself an Inuk from Nunavut, one of Canada's northern territories.

What Does the Arctic Council Do?

Through their working groups, the Arctic Council brings member states together for research and collaboration on specific projects, like the Arctic Contaminants Action Program. This working group aims to reduce emissions of pollutants into the environment in order to reduce identified pollution risks.

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) examines and assesses the state of the Arctic region with respect to pollution and climate change, while the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) group has members from each of the Arctic states working as a vehicle to cooperate on species and habitat management and information sharing.

Other working groups include Protection of Arctic Marine Environment (PAME), the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG), and the Emergency Prevention Preparedness and Response (EPPR) group, which concentrates on potential environmental emergencies in the Arctic.

Much of the Arctic Council's work focuses on research and awareness, helping government leaders and other organizations to make more informed decisions about Arctic policy. Status and Trends in Arctic Biodiversity, a 20-minute documentary (below) from CAFF and the Arctic Council, is a great example of the initiatives they're undertaking to promote a sustainable Arctic environment:

Video: Status and Trends of Arctic Biodiversity

What Can You Do?

Our team at Quark Expeditions care deeply about Arctic protection and the preservation of the beautiful, often remote areas we are fortunate to visit with passengers. In fact, many of our team members are also scientists, historians, teachers and polar region experts.

Biologist Fabrice Genevois, for example, has traveled the polar regions extensively over the last 17 years, from the Northeast Passages to the Canadian High Arctic including Ellesmere Island and the geographic North Pole. Expedition leader Alex McNeil has completed over 50 expeditions and has an interest in geology, ornithology and marine biology; he collects rare, first edition polar history books from the early 20th century.

The polar regions are places to be completely passionate about. If you care about the preservation of the Arctic like we do, you can make monetary donations to help fund Arctic initiatives through well-known organizations like the World Wildlife Fund. Or, visit the Arctic Council website for news, research and insight into the Arctic environment, people and oceans – and the work being done to ensure their protection.

 

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Guest Post: To Antarctica with Jonathan Shackleton

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A Guest post from Falcon Scott

Making a journey to Antarctica is a lifetime experience for anyone, but once you’ve been it actually draws you back. It's hard to say exactly what it is that makes you feel this way. Even after three adventures to the Antarctic, every trip has been like my first – a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

For me, one could say it comes naturally as my Grandfather was Captain Robert Falcon Scott who led two major expeditions in 1901 and in 1910 to discover that Antarctica was a continent, and lead a comprehensive scientific study of the region. He successfully reached the South Pole on the 17th January 1912, some 900 miles from their base at Cape Evans, but one month after Norwegian Roald Amundsen. He died along with four companions on the return journey, after sustained bad weather and exhaustion. After several weeks of marching into headwinds of 30 knots or more in temperatures of below minus 40C, they were eventually trapped in a blizzard lasting several days about 150 miles from base, and only 11 miles from One Ton Depot. Their bodies and diaries were found the following spring, eight months later. It was a year before the news reached the outside world, his wife and son.

 

Polar HIstory

 

 

A lesser-known story, is that Ernest Shackleton sailed with Captain Scott on his first expedition in the Discovery in 1901. And significantly, he accompanied Scott and Wilson when the three of them travelled about 400 miles into the interior to explore the extent of the mountain range -- now known as the Transantarctic Mountains -- and to find a possible route through to the South Pole. They all suffered badly on this journey, but Shackleton succumbed to scurvy, and his recovery was slow, prompting Scott to sent him back early on the relief ship, the Morning, in February 1903. Ernest Shackleton was frustrated by this, and started to organize his own expedition, which sailed on the Nimrod in 1907. There was a dispute with Scott about where he could set up his base, but in the end the Antarctic forced him to set up at Cape Royds, about 25 miles north of Discovery Hut. He subsequently reached a point of farthest south only 97 miles from the South Pole, and turned back saying "it's better to be a live donkey than a dead lion" -- leaving the Pole unconquered.

 

So when I was invited to join Quark's ship the Ocean Diamond for a voyage to Antarctica with Jonathan Shackleton -- a cousin of Ernest Shackleton – I was very excited. I’ve known Jonathan for over 10 years, as we meet at polar events that happen from time to time, and I’ve also been a guest at his home in Ireland. However, I’d never been to Antarctica with him, nor with any relative from the days of the heroic age of polar exploration.

 

We had our rendezvous at the Airport in Buenos Aires, and I was immediately reminded of how well we got on together -- perhaps we’re different personalities from our relatives, and we’re certainly not now in a position of competing with each other! I think mainly the later, as I know my Grandfather got on well with Shackleton on the southern journey, and before that. They subsequently became professional rivals!

 

Our travel via Argentina was also part of the great experience, as we had a day in Buenos Aires wandering around the city centre, and then nearly two days in Ushuaia; a delightful town surrounded by stunning mountain scenery. The culture in this town they call "the city at the end of the world" seems easy-going, and very multi-racial, and they love their dogs, who enjoy complete freedom as they wander around the streets. We went to the national park and did an 8 km trek around a coastal path, which was beautiful. We saw lots of wildlife including a Patagonian fox, and a Magellanic woodpecker. Jonathan's knowledge of the flora was impressive too.

Scott and Shackleton in Argentina

Once onboard the Ocean Diamond, we felt very welcomed right from the start by everyone as part of the staff. The Expedition Team were all very capable and nice people, and it was also good to see how well run everything was -- obviously the results of years of experience. The keen emphasis on education about everything Antarctic and environmental, delivered in a relaxed atmosphere was greatly appreciated, especially as my Father was closely involved with wildlife and the protection of world environments, and obviously with a special connection with Antarctica.

 

Shackleton and Scott with Quark Expeditions Leader "Woody" With Quark Expedition Leader "Woody" in Antarctica

 

Although there were a lot of passengers, we soon got to know them quite well, I was pleasantly surprised at how knowledgeable many of them were about the history of the explorers. We had many interesting conversations, and I think I learned a lot more information especially about Sir Ernest Shackleton. It was pleasing to see how impressed people were with all there was to see in Antarctica, and how keen they were to spend so much time watching the penguins, seals and other wildlife. Many people it seems got very swept up in the whole polar voyage atmosphere: the numbers camping overnight, and those crazy keen enough to do the Polar Plunge (Antarctic dive). It was obviously an amazing experience for everyone, myself included.

 

Jonathan and I worked well as team, supporting one another to champion the legacy of our relatives among the passengers, and in doing so, had a great time. We remain good friends and look forward to going back to Antarctica sometime soon.

 

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Falcon Scott, grandson of famed Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott, will be reuniting with Sir Ernest Shackleton’s cousin, Jonathan Shackleton, on four Quark voyages this Antarctic season. For more information click here.

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