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Clyde River taps into science

Karen Mackenzie
Northern News Services
Monday, August 6, 2007

CLYDE RIVER - Rockslides, invasive species and frequent polar bear visits are just a few of the changes that Clyde River residents have seen in recent years.

In order to help their community adjust to its shifting environment, some residents decided to tap into the scientific research that is frequently conducted around the area.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Shari Gearheard, left, and Nick Illauq are co-chairs of the Clyde River Research Committee, which is helping to co-ordinate a major Nunavut-wide climate change project. - photo courtesy of Shari Gearheard

The Clyde River Research Committee (CRRC) was co-founded by hamlet council member Nick Illauq and fellow resident Shari Gearheard two years ago.

"We kind of both realized at the same time that there was a lot of research going on in Clyde River, and we thought there might be something we could do to make sure the community could benefit more from it, in terms of research or economic benefits as well," Gearheard said.

This fall, the CRRC will celebrate the opening of a research and heritage centre, which will be housed in a building purchased with funds from the Department of Economic Development and Transportation.

Within it, the group hopes to collect the traditional and scientific knowledge that is being gathered around the community, and train residents in the research field.

"A real important part is the development of jobs," Gearheard said. "We're here all year, and if we have skilled local people working out of our own centre, we can collect this research for (outside groups) ourselves."

CRRC is holding a naming contest for the centre, and will chose a winner on Aug. 15.

Late last year, Illauq travelled to Iqaluit and successfully lobbied the territorial government to use Clyde River as a focus community in its development of a Nunavut-wide climate change adaptation plan.

The study, a collaboration of Natural Resources Canada, Memorial University and the Canadian Institute of Planners, will be used to help Nunavut communities affected by climate change to adapt their planning for its consequences.

Signs of climate change are visible throughout the land surrounding his community, he said.

"We had a tsunami scare in the summer of 2006 and it opened our eyes to how vulnerable we are, and the lack of planning we have," Illauq said. "The land is literally changing in real time. There are cabins all over Clyde Inlet, and some of them have had close calls with major landslide and rockslide. The campsites that people used to use are too dangerous."

Invasive species, particularly killer whales, are becoming a nuisance to other wildlife.

"They are killing everything they can see. Last summer, narwhals were beaching themselves to get away from the killer whales. If there's less narwhals, there's less narwhals for the people," Illauq said. "And the weirdest thing - you can keep on boating until late September or even November, when that was never something to even be thought of."

Since July 21, visiting researchers have been studying vegetation, terrain, water supply and sea level in Clyde River.

A similar study is taking place simultaneously in Iqaluit.

Much of this research is based on elementary technology, and could easily be transferred to local workers in the future, according to Jackie Bourgeois, Nunavut's climate change co-ordinator.

"A lot of it up here has been perceived as highly technical...we want to show people that it's accessible," she said.

The presence of a group like the CRRC is a big boost for outside researchers, according to David Mate, project leader for Natural Resources Canada's earth sciences sector, who is working on the adaptation plan.

"For years we've been doing work in the North, but there's always been a bit of a hard time to co-ordinate work with the communities," he said.

"With the research committee...it's been such a great collaboration. We have no idea how to co-ordinate people on the ground and tap into the traditional knowledge like they do. It's a great dynamic."

While Illauq said he is heartened by the amount of research taking place in the North, the rate of change is worrisome.

"There's always the thought in my head that says, 'Even if we start now, how much of the effects will the Inuit still face in the future?'"