An Expedition to Spitzbergen in the Arctic
Gary Schoer, OFF member and extensive Polar traveller joined us once again in November to share his photos and assessment of the beauties of and threats to the Arctic. Gary took us with him on a Aurora Expedition small group expedition to the Svalbard Archipaelego which includes its biggest Island, Spitzbergen, in between Northern Norway and Greenland.
While Gary was fortunate to see and capture some great images of seabirds such as puffins, Northern Fulmars, Ivory Gulls and Guillemonts to name a few, he gave additional insights into their conservation status and particular threats which are causing many populations to plummet in the last 20 years or so.
The smoking gun seems to be especially the rapid increase in average air temperatures, reduction in amount of sea ice especially thicker multi-year ice. In some areas average temperatures have increased by as much as 10 degrees celsius, causing the frozen soil of the tundra to melt and even creating additional pine forests where once there were no trees over many parts of the Arctic.
Gary had to travel to 81 degrees North to see 6 of 7 polar bears sighted on the journey on sea ice, which was virtually absent further south…a big change over as little as 15 years since OFFS members Julian and Annette Sheen were there. One other bear was sighted on a small glacial moraine island where it may have had to swim quite a distance to get access to Arctic tern eggs…a pressure on a bird that has flown 15 000 km from Antarctica to breed there.
So, as Gary emphasised, everything is connected. The changesd size of populations and average body length of the important bird-food fish may be contributing to sea bird losses.
While we in Australia and more temperate worlds argue about how to effect behavioural and fuel use changes to keep average world temperatures below 2 degrees above recent historical levels, the animals, plants and indigenous people who live there are well past that target, and we can only hope that sensible and strong political efforts will stope what we are seeing in the Arctic creating a tipping point that will affect ecosystems well beyond the poles.