Dan­ger­ous wa­ters

On the eve of a sail­ing voy­age to the North Pole, the ex­plorer re­flects on threats to ma­rine wildlife

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - LIFE AND TIMES - arc­ticmis­sion.com

ARC­TIC MIS­SION, an ex­pe­di­tion by yacht into the north­ern­most wa­ters of the cen­tral Arc­tic Ocean to con­duct vi­tal sci­en­tific re­search, is a go.

Our 10-strong in­ter­na­tional team of spe­cial­ists, in­clud­ing yachts­men, sci­en­tists and me­dia experts, has been as­sem­bling in the tiny harbour town of Nome, Alaska, since early Au­gust. Within an hour of land­ing, each spe­cial­ist has been flat-out prepping for the voy­age ahead aboard Arc­tic Mis­sion’s two 50ft yachts,

Bagheera and Snow Dragon II – rolling out of our com­pact cabin bunks at 7am, and climb­ing back up into them any time from mid­night to 3am. Mast rig­ging checked. Al­most 3 tons of food sup­plies stored across the two boats, and 2,000 litres of fresh wa­ter piped into the tanks. Seventy-five man-hours set­ting up satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Five days hon­ing the pro­ce­dures at sea for our sci­en­tific-re­search pro­gramme – our film-mak­ing, pho­to­graphic and writ­ing team shar­ing the process with our grow­ing num­ber of sup­port­ers world­wide. One of our skip­pers, Frances Brann, re­fus­ing to let her stan­dards drop de­spite the pres­sures, has even man­aged to spoil us with daily home­baked bread from Snow Dragon’s oven. It ’s been a re­lent­less and ex­haust­ing push to be ready. But fi­nally, we are ready to head North! LAST NIGHT, SATUR­DAY, WAS OUR FIRST and last sup­per on land with new friends in Nome, ahead of our voy­age into the newly ice-free in­ter­na­tional wa­ters around the North Pole. And as we ate, the harbour wa­ter level dropped. And dropped. Nome is shal­low at the best of times. But if a north wind blows long enough and hard enough, strange things can hap­pen. While Snow Dragon swished the harbour floor with the tip of her keel, Bagheera, moored be­tween

Snow Dragon and the quay­side, found her keel bed­ding ever deeper in.

Since then, a ris­ing tide al­most freed her, but the north wind has con­tin­ued. Now we’ll have to wait for the wa­ter level to be high enough be­fore we can es­cape into the Ber­ing Sea. And so, with the same wind set to con­tinue to­day and to­mor­row, Tues­day is likely to be our ear­li­est de­par­ture date. Nature, eh! AS I WROTE THE ABOVE, sit­ting at my study (a cor­ner of Bagheera’s sa­loon ta­ble), I heard an ‘Ahoy be­low decks!’ Climb­ing the com­pan­ion­way up on to the aft deck, a lo­cal fish­er­man thanked us for re­set­ting his moor­ing lines in the mid­dle of last night to save his boat from the em­bar­rass­ment of be­ing sus­pended in mid-air, half­way up the quay­side wall. He gen­tly lobbed two bags of fruit down to me 10ft be­low him, by way of thanks. Such acts of kind­ness are typ­i­cal of the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

Yachts at­tract at­ten­tion here. Most are mak­ing their way to or from a tran­sit through the North­west Pas­sage. ‘So, where are you go­ing?’ they ask. ‘Into the in­ter­na­tional wa­ters around the North Pole,’ we say. ‘ We’ll be study­ing the ma­rine wildlife that may now need our pro­tec­tion from im­mi­nent dam­age by com­mer­cial ship-borne ac­tiv­i­ties.’

Lo­cals have re­ported that coast­line sea ice is dis­ap­pear­ing a month ear­lier over re cent years. One hunter has no­ticed that killer whales have been given early ac­cess to prey pre­vi­ously pro­tected by un­bro­ken sea ice. And breast­feed­ing moth­ers in the high Arc­tic tra­di­tional hunter com­mu­ni­ties are ap­par­ently re­ceiv­ing strong rec­om­men­da­tions from gov­ern­ment health of­fi­cers to avoid eat­ing lo­cal ma­rine mam­mals. The ef­fects on in­fants con­sum­ing dan­ger­ous quan­ti­ties of toxic ma­rine pol­lu­tants, now ac­cu­mu­lat­ing in the an­i­mals’ body tis­sues, is alarm­ing of­fi­cials. The pres­sures on the North Pole’s ma­rine wildlife are great.

One hunter has no­ticed that killer whales have been given early ac­cess to prey

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