Sherman woman to take part in Arctic expedition, snorkel Northwest Passage
SHERMAN — The Arctic is melting, and to bring that point home, a crew of women is planning to snorkel nearly 1,900 miles through it.
“The idea that we could be snorkeling the Northwest Passage should be an eye-opener that climate change is real,” said Breezy Grenier Mollicone, 30, of Sherman, an ocean scientist and educator on the upcoming expedition.
Grenier is one of about a dozen seawomen who will snorkel 3,000 kilometers in 100 days in 2020 as part of the Sedna Epic Expedition. The crew will make its third visit to the region this August to continue community outreach and climate research in preparation for the full relay.
This year’s trip will start in Resolute Bay, go around Baffin Island and then to Greenland — just a section of the overall route. It is expected to last about two weeks, beginning Aug. 4.
The expedition started in 2014, with trips every two years. Each trip helps create connections with the Inuit communities and recruit more participants for the upcoming relay.
Grenier said the Inuit people have a special connection to and admiration for the fish they pull from the water, but grow up fearing the water itself. Visits from the Sedna crew allows the communities to see the animals in their natural habitats through snorkeling, aquariums and using cameras attached to remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs. Sometimes, the crew is able to leave the aquariums and ROVs behind with the community, if donations are sufficient.
“We’re really inspiring a lot of locals to become scientists,” she said, adding that many different jobs are opening up as the Arctic ice melts, allowing for more shipping and ecotourism.
The project also has a female focus, with the aim of empowering women and girls. The expedition itself is named for Sedna, goddess of the Sea and mother of all marine mammals, according to Inuit legend.
“We’re still building our way in the science fields,” Grenier said. “By going to such a harsh environment, we’re showing, especially to young girls, we really can do anything.”
So far, women from Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Poland and New Zealand have participated in the expedition.
Grenier officially joined the crew in March, though she’s been working on it since December. This will be her third time above the Arctic Circle, having traveled to the Russian Arctic with Poseidon Expeditions and to Alaska while serving with the U.S. Coast Guard. She’s also been to Antarctica and has years of experience snorkeling in freezing waters.
While she enjoys going to places not many people see, and interacting with communities she wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to meet, she’s disheartened by the plastic trash she’s encountered in these remote locations. The Sedna Expedition is awaiting permit approval to test microplastics, which are the size of plankton and being eaten by fish, working their way up the food chain.
Grenier said it’s important to share the stories of what’s happening at the poles.
“You can clearly see the stress in the environment,” she said.
During one of her trips to the North Pole, Grenier’s Russian colleagues commented that it was the fastest trip they’ve done because there was no ice.
“We’re going to see more drastic swings in our climate,” Grenier said. “It’s why we’re seeing these 100-year storms every year.”
Already, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to evacuate about 100,000 people in the Arctic because villages are now in flood zones or because their land is eroding as the barrier of sea ice disappears. The mass migration could lead to the loss of Inuit culture and potential stress on schools and other infrastructure where they resettle.
The growth of shipping as ice melts could speed erosion , as well as create dangerous situations for inexperienced boaters. Companies and the villages are also working together on how to treat oil spills, as that risk also becomes greater, Grenier said.
The warmer water is also affecting the fishing industry, an important part of the New England economy, as fishermen are forced to travel farther to find their catch or turn to new species.
“We’re losing an entire ecosystem,” she said. “We’re losing the Arctic Ocean and that’s going to be really hard to bring back.”