The water will be 9,000 feet at its deepest, thick with ice, and home to narwhals, bowheads, belugas, walruses, polar bears, seals, and Greenland sharks; too cold for even the thickest wetsuit, requiring instead a drysuit with a battery-powered heated under-layer. Who would want to dive into water like that?
I do. And so do my teammates. Because we know that to truly study climate change, and to thoughtfully and powerfully educate the next generation of environmental leaders, you have to immerse yourself in the issue.
I’m Dr. Kelly Bushnell, and I am one of ten ocean experts chosen to undertake the all-female 2018 Sedna Epic Expedition to the Canadian High Arctic and Greenland. From Greenland to Alaska, according to Inuit legend, Sedna is the goddess of the sea and the mother of all marine mammals. The Sedna Epic Expedition borrows its name from her. Team Sedna will document the disappearing sea ice in the Arctic and visit Inuit and Inuvialuit communities to bring the ocean to eye level for children, especially girls, on the front line of climate change.
The all-female Sedna Epic Expedition is a multi-year underwater project—involving the study of climate change via snorkeling and diving—that takes places in Canada’s High Arctic. The Sedna Epic involves an international team of women ocean professionals working with Inuit and Inuvialuit girls and young women in the Arctic with a focus on health, wellness, environment and empowerment issues.
Inuit societies are matriarchal in nature, and women often become community leaders. Team Sedna’s sea women hope to inspire and empower the next generation of young Inuit and Inuvialuit female leaders; in the process, we’ll help them redefine their relationship with the ocean, which covers 71 percent of the planet’s surface area. Most of the Inuit’s food comes from the ocean which is undergoing profound ocean change—disappearing sea ice, warming waters, changes in salinity, and acidification from absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Ocean change is causing food insecurity for northern communities.
Sedna’s sea women aim to inspire girls and young women to think big, and to follow their dreams. Team Sedna also aims to give Canada’s Indigenous people a voice in the discussions of observing, documenting and mitigating climate change in the Arctic, ensuring that traditional Inuit knowledge is combined with scientific knowledge to tackle climate change and ocean change which has been occurring for several decades in the Arctic.
Sedna’s sea women have provided mentorship to Inuit youth since 2016, introducing them to the possibility of careers in marine biology, fisheries management, seafood harvesting, ocean engineering, marine archaeology, marine geology, climate science, movie-making, photography, environmental arts and humanities, and the nascent dive and snorkel tourism industry in Nunavut.
During the August 4-17, 2018 expedition, the Sedna Epic Expedition will visit at least two Inuit communities in Nunavut (Resolute Bay and Pond Inlet, respectively, in the Canadian High Arctic, and hopefully a third on the west coast of Greenland. Team Sedna will deliver its innovative ocean outreach program in these communities, bringing the ocean to eye level for Inuit youth and Elders via mobile touch aquariums that temporarily house with sea creatures, by running underwater robot-building camps, and by deploying scuba divers wearing masks with underwater communications systems that enable them to speak to Inuit on the ocean’s surface.
Under the supervision of dive masters and wearing arctic-rated dry suits, Team Sedna also leads Inuit girls and Elders on snorkel safaris near their communities, literally bringing the ocean to eye level for them. Snorkeling in Arctic waters represents a huge step for Inuit, as although the sea nourishes their community, death by drowning is one of the leading causes of fatalities in the Arctic and there is no safe way to see beneath the surface into the underwater world without expensive specialized equipment.
Katujjiqatigiit is an Inuktitut word that means “working together, shouldering the burden together, side by side.” Johnny Issaluk, Sedna’s esteemed advisor and an Inuk living in Iqaluit, Nunavut, named Sedna’s expedition Katujjiqatigiit, because of its North-South relationship-building efforts and its cross-cultural ocean educational outreach. Team Sedna has been building a relationship of trust with Inuit leaders in northern communities since 2014, enabling it to deliver hands-on ocean programming for Inuit youth and Elders—at the community level and with Inuit in leadership and mentorship roles. The sea women collaborate with their Inuit advisors to create citizen ocean scientists in Nunavut. Together, they’re focused on empowering youth, girls and young women to become the next generation of Inuit leaders to tackle societal change, climate change and ocean change in the Arctic.
The Sedna Epic Expedition team was founded in 2013 by Susan R. Eaton— Canadian geologist, conservationist, and fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. In 2015 Susan was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Modern-Day Explorers by the RCGS and, in 2016, one of Canada’s 25 Greatest Female Explorers. The rest of Team Sedna (affectionately called the Sea Women) is made up of female professionals from five countries with expertise in the ocean, including scientists, underwater photographers and videographers, archeologists, Inuit cultural advisors, and educators.
I research and teach the environmental humanities, specializing in the historical and cultural study of ocean ecologies. My PhD is from the University of London and I now teach at the University of West Florida, where I am especially passionate about inspiring and empowering women and girls through education and exploration.
As a researcher, I believe in an interdisciplinary approach to conservation, and I agree with the ecocritic Greg Garrard that:
“Environmental problems require analysis in cultural as well as scientific terms because they are the outcome of an interaction between ecological knowledge of nature and its cultural inflection.”
My research, teaching, and community work strive to bridge the gap between the arts/humanities and the sciences. I have been awarded multiple travel grants for my work, which has taken me to the archives of the British Library, Natural History Museum, National Maritime Museum, and Science Museum, among others. In addition to peer-reviewed publications I am at work on a book about the depiction of sea life in Victorian literature.
As an UWF faculty member I teach a popular environmental literature course which combines the arts, humanities, and sciences to engage students from majors across campus. I have been the 2018 recipient of the Mary F. Rogers Award (presented to one UWF faculty member per year for contributions to gender equality and women’s studies), and I was a finalist for the Distinguished Teaching Award in 2017.
I am also an avid waterwoman. A few of my memorable experiences have been snorkeling in a cave with an enormous school of golden rays in the Galapagos Islands, and kayaking the Aurlandsfjord in Norway. (My parents like to say I could row before I could walk.) I’ve also spent my life on (and in) the water as a volunteer naturalist aboard whale conservation programs and as a team leader for the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Team, where we rescued and rehabilitated (or necropsied) marine mammals and sea turtles. There I saw firsthand the effects of human interference with sea creatures, including sea turtles drowned in cast away fishing line or suffocated by balloons, whales with bellies full of plastic, and dolphins driven ashore by sonar testing.
As the expedition historian and environmental humanist I will wear multiple hats on Team Sedna. For my fellow sea women who are scientists and technologists, I will provide historical context to our interaction with the Arctic environment and its creatures. (For instance, I have publications forthcoming on the cultural legacy of nineteenth-century Arctic whaling and early oceanic climate change.) In the villages I will work with Inuit and Inuktituk translators and cultural advisors to listen to village Elders, record their observations on their changing environment, and mentor girls about their climate future at the nexus of cutting edge science and traditional indigenous ecological knowledge. We will also teach girls to snorkel, where they will see underwater in their own communities for the first time. I hope to ask them What do you wish the world knew about being a young woman in a community at the front line of climate change? And while I’m in the icy water I will be showing that humanities scholars can indeed also immerse ourselves in the archive of nature, and that we are not out of our depth outside the library, and that the only solution to a warming and acidifying ocean is interdisciplinary cooperation between the arts, humanities, and sciences.
Current expedition partners include the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, GoPro, PADI, SANTI Dive Gear, Adventure Canada, OceanQuest, DiveX, SREco Consultants, Oceanic Worldwide, Open ROV, Suunto, and Halcyon, in additional to numerous individual donors.
My sincerest gratitude to the following folks who have supported the expedition:
Dive Pros of Pensacola, Antony Adler, The Anzaldo-Satterwhite Family, Johnny Ardis, The Baltazar-Fandrick Family, Angie Blumberg, The Blyn-Baulch Family, The Bue Family, The Bushnell Family, Kristin Cardenas, Elle Carne, Maura Coughlin, Sonia Dass-Hansen, Dean DeBolt, The Feldman Family, Miguel Gutierrez, Craig Hill, Jackie Hodge, Dolly Jorgensen, Kristen Judd, Stephanie La Gasse-Valle, Maureen Lare, Travis Lau, Brittney Lester, Allie Miller, Amy Mitchell-Cook, The Moon Family, Kala Mulqueeny, Samantha Muka, Pam Myers, Arlette O'Donnell, Laura Prazeres, Trish Rozanski, Katie Sims, Sydney Stone, The Thomas-McGee Family, Charles Wexler, Randy Wanttaja, The Wittner Family, the UWF Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Department, and several donors who wish to remain anonymous. You are MY Arctic circle and I love you! :)
My Homepage: www.kellypbushnell.com
Email me: Kelly.SednaEpic@gmail.com
Expedition Home: www.sednaepic.com
Expedition Twitter: @sednaepic
Expedition Facebook: @sednaepic
Want a postcard from Arctic? Just send me your address at Kelly.SednaEpic@gmail.com!