Leg 8: Light, birds and nature’s wonders

By Mark Graham

Mark Graham, Head of the Canada C3 Science Program, is the Vice-President of Research and Collections at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

For over a month I have been on the Canada C3 icebreaker that has moved along the East Coast of Canada and into the Arctic. The ship has negotiated ice and at times heavy seas, while keeping us relatively close to land so we can see the incredible natural beauty along these shores.

Part of the charm of moving north along the rocky coasts of Newfoundland and the mountainous coasts of Labrador, and then the long stretch of Baffin Island, is the lengthening of the daylight hours. With each national park and breathtaking fiord we visit the night sky gets lighter and lighter until we get to Baffin Island. Here, the sky is no longer dark, even in the latest hours.

Having the light is in our favour, because several of the proposed Canada C3 science projects are focussing on surveying marine birds. There are many important, large bird-nesting areas in the Canadian North. These are the product of good breeding habitat and productive seas that support the growth of new chicks. Some of the ocean sampling we are doing will give an indication of that productivity, and of the communities of the ocean’s plants and animals that make up the marine food web.

We were fortunate to visit and study two bird colonies along the coast of Baffin Island. The steep rock faces of Hantzsch Island at the mouth of Frobisher Bay support colonies of Thick-billed Murres and Glaucous Gulls, while cliffs just north of Cape Graham Moore are awash with kittiwakes and more murres.

At each site there are tens of thousands of birds flying back and forth to their nest with food for their chicks. It is breathtaking to watch, hear and smell so much biological activity in one spot. It is also a beautiful example of how all the parts of the coastal marine ecosystem are coordinated and hugely productive. It is also surprising how so much life can be concentrated in such small, vulnerable areas.

We are all connected to the oceans and these amazing signs of life and forces of nature. Getting close enough to see, hear and smell them so vividly delivers a strong sense of responsibility for them. What a wonderful place we live in.