In 1999, explorer and educator Geoff Green set out on a mission to introduce young people to the polar regions and the communities that exist there. Since then the organisation he founded, Students on Ice (SOI), has lead over 1,000 young people, educators and scientists on expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, providing them with a unique insight into a world so far removed from their everyday lives.
The main part of SOI’s programme involves sailing to the polar regions aboard a research icebreaker, laden with high-school students from all over the world, lead by a team of a dozen of scientists that will guide them on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the far ends of our planet.
Last year, SOI launched a new kind of expedition. This one travels by a 47-foot polar-class sailboat, Arctic Tern I, which will take one student on each annual journey for an extensive 45-day trip through the Canadian Arctic and Greenland.
SEE VIDEO: Introduction to Students on Ice.
This week, Arctic Tern I sets sail once more. On this journey the crew of three will be joined by Graham May, the Youth Arctic Coalition (YAC) chairman .
“I am very excited for the expedition,” he says. “The work Students on Ice does is quite similar to the Youth Arctic Coalition, in that we both try to get young people interested in the Arctic and I’m hoping that there will be some overlap between the two in the future. I just hope we don’t get too many storms.”
The Arctic Tern will set sail from Newfoundland, and with it May will travel to Greenland and then to Baffin Island Nunavut.
“Usually the ship does a lot of hard scientific work, but as I am a social scientist, my role will be a little different,” explains May. “I will be meeting with community leaders in the region and discussing resource management with them. As the Arctic warms, more resources will become available and I am interested in how the communities can have a say in how they are used.”
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Although SOI conducts research on its expeditions, May believes the importance of its work goes far beyond the science.
“I look at this as an experience to learn stories from the Arctic and carry these stories south,” he says. “Education is all about storytelling and the only way we can truly teach people about climate change is to create good stories.”
The reason May believes that stories are such a powerful way to reach people, and especially young people, is because they put a human face on a problem so often covered in complicated facts and figures that most people are able to understand.
“Putting a human face on a problem is just so much more powerful than any IPCC report and we need to be telling stories about the Arctic as climate change is happening twice as fast there, than in the rest of the world,” he says.
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May, a Vancouver native, first travelled to the Arctic in 2008, and witnessing the region in person inspired him to dedicate his young life to helping it.
“On my first trip there I went with a botanist and once we came upon a flower, and I remember her picking it up the and saying that this was the first time this particular flower had been found this far north. That moment has really sat with me, and it is these kind of stories that are a really powerful way of communicating with people about things like climate change.”
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