Writer’s Block and the Polar Bear Project

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I’d rather write about polar bears than people

Mary Oliver

Procrastination. That’s what led to my discovery of a fascinating citizen science program close to home. I was stumped by a writing project that up until that day had been progressing nicely. Suddenly words which normally flow, first became fleeting, and then seemed to have simply vanish. Vaporized. So I tried going for a walk. That normally helps. But nothing. In desperation, I sat in front of the television and mindlessly perused the listings when a program about the polar bears in the Canadian arctic appeared.

Intrigued, I soon learned that February 27 marked International Polar Bear Day and our national broadcasting corporation was debuting a new program about the impact of climate change in the Arctic on Canadian Polar Bear populations. Scientists have been signaling concerns about climate change and its impact on the wildlife in the arctic for years. The species that has become the most vulnerable to the devastation of climate change are the polar bears. The area surrounding the town of Churchill, Manitoba located on the Hudson’s Bay is home to one of the largest populations of Canadian Polar Bears.

Changes to Arctic sea ice as the climate on earth becomes warmer, have created dire challenges for the polar bears as they are now forced to wait for longer periods of time to get out on the sea ice to hunt seals which are their primary source of food. Typically, female bears hunt and store enough food to see them through the annual birthing process that may mean they go six months without food or water. Changes to the sea ice mean they now may be fasting as long as eight months.

It also places the humans living close by at risk as the bears venture into the town of Churchill when they seek out the sustenance they badly need and are attracted by the variety of urban smells that signal food is available. Conservation projects have been created to prevent the destruction of these majestic creatures using methods to contain and then release the bears back into the wild. Scientists researching the impact of warmer water and less sea ice are working to collect data to inform the current understanding on the impacts of climate change.

Writer’s curiosity kicks in and I begin a stumbling search on the internet to learn more about conservation in the Far North and search engine magic leads me to The Arctic Bears Project. Citizen scientists are being recruited to assist with data analysis to help answer several research questions through a web-site called Zooniverse.org Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan are seeking volunteers to help analyze data from trail cam photographs about polar bears and other Arctic animals from the Hudson Bay area.

What an amazing opportunity to not only make volunteer contributions to this research but to learn more about parts of our natural world that we will likely never visit. Who knew that having a minor bout of writer’s block would lead down such an interesting path? Check it out – there are projects from around the world on this site that need volunteer citizen scientists. I am thankful this fascinating detour was all that I needed to jumpstart my writing process. And a necessary reminder about the impacts of climate change on the natural world that surrounds us.

Stay healthy and safe!