The arctic tundra was beautiful, especially in the early morning as the sun rose. It sparkled and glittered in icy cold magic. As each day progressed, it got colder and more frozen. The wildlife of the Arctic was perfectly adapted to be there. From polar bears with big paws suited for walking on ice; to ptarmigan with white plumage to blend in; to arctic foxes also white and adapted to live in a cold icy climate.
But there were reminders of climate change everywhere. From hungry polar bears waiting longer and longer for the sea ice to develop; to red foxes moving north into Arctic fox territory; to the icy slush under the rover wheels that didn’t previously exist to the extent it was there now; to the Prince of Wales Fort in Churchill sinking into the tundra since the permafrost was melting. The effects were inescapable and sad to contemplate for the future.
Churchill has around 750 residents and is very remote, accessible by air, railroad and the sea. The railroad was down after millions of dollars of damage due to catastrophic flooding in May 2017. The last sea delivery was made before we arrived in mid-late October before the sea ice froze and made it inaccessible. The port in Churchill closed in July 2016 eliminating 100 jobs. So as a result of the port closing and the railroad damage, the town is suffering.
The people that come to Churchill to see polar bears and other animals in October and November, beluga whales in the summer, and go on Northern Lights tundra tours bring much-needed jobs and revenue to the town. They buy souvenirs, eat in the restaurants, stay in the hotels, and of course, go wildlife viewing. Our trip employed a bus driver and Polar Rover driver that treated us like gold. There was also lots of support personnel involved that helped our tour go smoothly. We saw how necessary responsible travel is to Churchill.
Both wildlife and people had adapted to live in the remote cold of the area around Churchill, and both now have to deal with change not of their own making.
By Sharon Dreyfuss, Manager Direct Response Marketing, WWF