Sedna expedition leader set to speak in Chilliwack

The Sedna Epic Expedition is a multi-year odyssey to study climate change and the disappearing sea ice by snorkeling and diving

Susan R. Eaton

Susan R. Eaton

It’s an expedition to the Canadian High Arctic with environmental, scientific, female empowerment, and North-South reconciliation aims.

Calgary-based Susan R. Eaton is the founder and leader of the Sedna Epic Expedition 2014-18, and guest speaker for the Chilliwack Field Naturalists’ event on April 19 at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre.

Eaton describes herself as a “geologist, geophysicist, journalist and polar snorkeler” who will mapping out some details of the multi-year odyssey during her Chilliwack talk.

The Sedna Epic Expedition, named for the Inuit goddess of the sea, will be studying climate change and the disappearing sea ice by snorkeling and diving this summer in Nunavut, with plans for a snorkel relay in the Northwest Passage during the summers of 2017 and 2018.

The team will face “formidable challenges as they snorkel the unforgiving and unpredictable arctic seas: hypothermia in -2 C waters, dynamically changing sea ice conditions, icebergs, gale force winds, stinging jellyfish, tusked walrus, predatory polar bears, pods of orcas, and the elusive Greenland shark.”

The project is as much about fostering cross-cultural dialogue as it is about delivering educational outreach.

“It is a project that involves an international team of female ocean professionals working with Inuit and Inuvialuit girls and young women in the Arctic with a focus on health, wellness, environment and empowerment issues,” Eaton said.

They’ll also be addressing the plight of Inuit who have never seen the sea creatures who live under the ice in their homelands because they do not swim. The Sedna team will be diving and bringing up fish and other critters to showcase in mobile aquariums, as well as recording on-the-ground climate change observations of elders.

“Snorkeling in arctic waters represents a huge step for the Inuit, given the fact that many people don’t swim due to a lack of swimming pools in their remote communities. Unfortunately, death by drowning is one of the leading causes of fatalities in the Arctic,” said Eaton.

They’ll be using underwater robots and dive masks with underwater communications systems to discover what lies below the waves in their backyards, so to speak.

“It’s never been done before and I think it will be exciting,” said event organizer Lee Larkin of Chilliwack Field Naturalists. The lecture is sponsored by the Chilliwack Field Naturalists and is part of the Valerie Whetter Speaker Series, with Garrison Village Envision Financial as co-sponsor.

“I think it’s just inspirational that a group of women would get together and create a project like this,” Larkin said.

Eaton was named one of Canada’s top 100 explorers and trailblazers by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. She is only one of 18 female explorers on the list.

The all-female Sedna squad, who Eaton calls “sea women” will include scientists, underwater filmmakers, underwater photographers, journalists, educators, artists and professional scuba divers.

“The Expedition will serve as a call-to-action for citizens of the world, including youth, providing aboriginal and scientific knowledge to inform governments of the world on implementing science-based policies to mitigate global warming,” according to the Sedna website. “The Expedition will also serve to inspire women and girls to think big and to follow their dreams, no matter how crazy they may appear.”

Team Sedna will also run film camps for youth, enabling them to tell their stories using various media.

The hope is to inspire the next generation of female leaders in the matriarchal communities they visit, and, in the process, help them redefine their relationship with the ocean.

“Most of the Inuit’s food comes from the ocean which is in peril due to ocean change — disappearing sea ice, warming waters, changes in salinity, and acidification from absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Traditional knowledge will be combined with scientific knowledge to tackle climate change and ocean change.

The Sedna Epic Expedition talk by Susan R. Eaton, is April 19, 7:30 p.m. at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre inside Chilliwack Secondary.

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