2017 Arctic Expedition Guest Blog: The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

As I depart the Ocean Endeavour, our floating classroom for the past week, I want to take a moment to reflect on my journey with Students On Ice. 

The one feeling that I am left with is awe. 

Awe at the beauty of the Canadian High-Arctic, the resiliency of the Inuit who live here, and the magnitude of the challenge that we all face, together. 

That challenge is climate change. It is real. Here in the Arctic, we see the impacts very clearly. Glaciers are receding, animal and marine life habits are changing, and Inuit culture and traditions are at risk. 

Inuit Elder and counsellor, Moosa Akavak and Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna took traditional Inuit style qajaqs out to explore the glacier and surrounding icebergs.

I had the good fortune to get to know Carter, an amazing Inuit student on board. He made a long list of all the impacts that his community of Cambridge Bay is seeing as a result of a changing climate. He pointed out that melting permafrost and erosion is threatening key pieces of infrastructure that are now at risk of falling into the ocean. He spoke of melting permafrost turning to deep, thick mud, that he and his friends get stuck in – sometimes up to their waists. And he spoke about the impact on animals like caribou and polar bears – the country food that they rely on. Today he is finding different birds and bugs in his community and ice melt breaks up sooner.

These stories (and many others from Inuit youth and elders) really struck me. The need for everyone to collectively take action, is urgent. 

Minister McKenna, presenting about the anticipated announcement of the MPA area in Tallurutiup Imanga LancasterSound.

I was so thrilled that I had the opportunity to sail through Tallurutiup Imanga (Inuktitut for Lancaster Sound) prior to the announcement. This was my first time experiencing the High Arctic. Spending time in the area, and learning first hand about the biodiversity, the ocean and the ecology from experts and Inuit elders was incredible. I also learned about the importance of Tallurutiup Imanga for Inuit  This massive new marine conservation area – over 2 % of Canada’s oceans, will protect this amazing space for future generations of Inuit – and will safeguard their right to hunt and fish on the land – preserving culture and traditions. It will also guard against the impacts of climate change. 

I am committed now, more than ever, to drive policy that will help tackle climate change and position Canada as a leader in the clean growth century.  As Ambassador Heyman emphasized so eloquently, we all need to be upstanders not bystanders. I urge all of you to step up, and join me in taking action to save the only planet we have!

Minister McKenna and Migratory Birds and Protected Areas Biologist Garry Donaldson share a laugh during a Zodiac cruise around Prince Leopold Island.

A huge thank you to all the amazing staff, crew members, elders, educators and of course, the students from across the Arctic and around the world, who were incredible and worked hard to make the Students On Ice an extraordinary experience.

I will be thinking about this experience while I make decisions, 

Thanks again, 

Catherine McKenna 

Minister of the Environment and Climate Change 

Students on Ice is proudly supported by bv02.

This website was made possible by a generous contribution from the Leacross Foundation.