A voyage of “firsts” and important lessons: reflections from Yemisi Dare
As a Collections Manager for invertebrates with the Canadian Museum of Nature, being on the Canada C3 science team between Qikiqtarjuaq and Mittimatalik was an experience of many “first” moments. It was my first experience north of Newfoundland, my first experience on a ship, and my first marine sampling experience. Here are three of the many lessons I learned:
Lesson one: the Arctic is NOT always freezing cold; ships are not always damp
My first time in the Arctic! What should I wear? Seasoned field biologists know that personal comfort plays a large part in successful field work. My greatest concern was being adequately warm and dry. Thus the bulk of my bag included rubber boots, full-length coveralls, waterproof pants, a waterproof jacket to go over a warm winter coat, heavy winter gloves for handling cold, wet equipment, thick socks and something to keep my head warm. To my surprise, the weather was often so mild and sunny that only light shirts were required during the day (on arrival at our most northern destination, Mittimatalik, we were sweating in t-shirts!). Also, the ship deck remained dry for the duration. However, I did wear the fashionable and warm toque I was given – thank you Canada C3!
Lesson two: There is only one ocean, one earth and we are all a part of it
The first few days saw the ship staying away from the coastline to avoid heavy ice, and we were unable to do any sampling. This meant I was able to connect with participants and crew in the intimate environment of the ship. I was heartened by the courage of others who spoke openly on the four themes of the expedition, although their stories were sometimes difficult and heartbreaking to absorb.
I was reminded again of how we are all connected to each other. I am proud of Canada’s cultural diversity and I am honored to have shared even a short time with such inspiring people. My one hope as we separate from this journey and return to our individual lives is that we each feel an overwhelmingly fierce determination to hold closer in love, our earth, each other.
Once the ice conditions improved we soon got down to work! Marine invertebrates were brought up in the plankton ring net. There were jelly combs with tiny, hair-like cilia quivering and shimmering iridescent; bright pink copepod crustaceans that are a primary food source for so many other animals; and translucent predacious arrow worms. A microscope revealed these discoveries to others. One of my greatest pleasures as a collections manager is sharing the marvel of diversity and the beauty of nature with others.
I spent most of my time with the science team sampling plants, lichens and mosses, and later pressing and drying them in the lab. This work sometimes continued late into the night. However, because the sun set well after midnight and rose again at 2:30 a.m., late nights did not feel as challenging as they might have been further south!
While I have done plant field work before, in the Arctic it is “belly botany”— a vibrant world of colour and texture, only a couple of inches high. New plants I came across produced squeals of excitement that brought others to see what I was looking at. The excitement spread and others soon joined to collect soil samples, plants, lichens, and mushrooms. Aluki Kotierk, an Inuk participant, picked berries or leaves for us to taste, and taught about other plants that are used for so many medicinal and everyday purposes.
My biggest excitement was finding a bee carrying a parasitic mite—as a parasitologist, this was the epitome of discovery! Of course, I told others of my discovery at dinner time, testing the friendships (and stomachs) of my new acquaintances.
Lesson three: Never mind sea sickness, it’s the land sickness you need to watch for
I am prone to motion sickness, so I had packed every conceivable remedy that I knew about. I was adamant that my brief time on this expedition would not be spoiled by sea sickness. Fortunately, the waters were completely flat the entire time, and the Polar Prince drifted through a breathtaking landscape of ice, mountains and turquoise waters. As a light sleeper, I was also delighted to discover that the constant purr of the engine and the gentle movement of the ship had a sedating effect. I slept better than I have in years, snuggled in the most comfortable bunk beds—without earplugs!
So imagine my surprise after I disembarked from the ship. For a day afterwards, I experienced all the symptoms I was afraid I would have on the ship—including the feeling of a constantly rocking earth beneath my feet!