I left for the Arctic with a small group of like minded photographers on the 16th June. Flying from Heathrow to Oslo and then on to Longyearben in Svalbard where we were met by the Captain of our accommodation for the next 3 weeks.
The Anne Margarithe is a 22m Sail Boat with a top speed of around 11 knots, has a Captain and 3 crew plus room for 10 very tightly packed passengers made more difficult because of all the Camera Equipment we had. It was an excellent form of travel for us to get into all those smaller places the bigger tankers could not get to, only downside was speed and at around 5 knots. We set sail on the 17th and having visited ymerbukta, trygghamna and poole-pynten we headed into Ny Alesund the worlds most Northern Town.
Ny Alesund was very small, dated but had a little shop as you would expect for the tourists and a post office (last chance to send some hello's to the folks back home). One of the symbols of a time gone by in Ny Alesund was this old mining train
Another symbol of Ny Alesund but also the symbol of Svalbard is the Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea). A medium sized gull easily recognised by its white plumage, black legs, yellow / orange tipped bill with an almost silver base and a black eye with a fine red rim. The bird is absolutely beautiful to see up close and whilst much of the surrounding areas of Ny Alesund are protected, whilst lying on the shingle on a section of the beach I fortunately had 2 birds become more inquisitive both of myself and the camera. Laying still for maybe 90 minutes trying to balance and manoeuvre a 500mm lens on the shingle was not easy but the images were worth it even if the light could have been brighter.
Much of the wonder of the Arctic I have covered in other bloggs however having shared some history and beauty I would now like to highlight the plight of what is happening today in the Arctic. Every day the Glaciers break up and every day I either observed or heard huge pieces breaking away, pieces that will not anytime soon recover because our global temperatures are just too warm and these glaciers are left over from an age before humans.
Apart from the temperature it is no exaggeration to reflect that the region is becoming a tip for all the waste and debris washed up on many shores from I was told Siberia. So serious is the situation that tourists are encouraged wherever possible to not only take all rubbish home (back to your boats) but under safe conditions spend one hour cleaning an area of beach so the rubbish can quickly be collected by the Sysselman. "Clean up Svalbard" is a collaboration between tourists, tour operators and the Governor of Svalbard to help protect and preserve this unique wilderness. Cultural artifacts are welcome but the impact of this debris on the Wildlife, particularly Polar Bears is not acceptable and within our gift to fix. I have many images evidence of the damage being done but the one I would like to share with you is this one with a Mother Bear feeding on a dead Walrus, her Cub (beautiful) is standing against her back but in this image you can clearly see the plastic and the wooden pallets around the Walrus. Its June, snowing gently but the ground around them is barren. Maybe not the image you might expect to see of a Polar Bear in the Arctic
My saddest image was this one of a wounded Polar Bear. Initially the Bear looks like it might have been shot, possibly a warning shot but there are very strict rules in the Arctic and clear process to be adopted in the event you find yourself confronted by a Bear. Its also possible the Bear caught itself on rocks whilst scavenging for food either way a sad image. The sighting was reported to the Syssselman whom checked daily. Later on the trip we were told the Bear had moved away presumed suitably healed.
My final image in this blog is one I have and will use a number of times as it is one of my favourites, the Polar Bear is stunning, has found a nice bit of ice to walk on against a shingle shore but the most striking element of this image is the heat haze clearly visible behind the Bear. Temperature outside was around zero it was late june and the last time I saw haze like this was off the pipes of a motorbike during Superbikes GP Silverstone.