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Arctic adventure

Science student Michael Gardiner in Labrador.

By Kelly Foss

A two-week trip to the Arctic last summer has changed Michael Gardiner's view of this planet forever.

The Torbay resident is in his first year of studies in the Faculty of Science and has yet to decide upon his major. However, one thing he does know for certain is that he hopes to focus on environmental issues.

The topic interests him so much he spent his final years of high school working towards being accepted for the Students on Ice program. This award-winning organization offers unique educational expeditions to the Antarctic and the Arctic. Their mandate is to provide students, educators and scientists from around the world with inspiring educational opportunities at the ends of the Earth and, in doing so, help them foster a new understanding and respect for the planet.

The intense application process took nearly a year and involved the completion of more than a dozen 500-word essays on a wide range of environmental issues. Once accepted, Mr. Gardiner spent another six months finding sponsors to help cover the more than $10,000 in travel and expedition fees.

"Even though I had been accepted, it was another five months before I knew I had the funding," he said. "That's when I really knew I was going."

His trip took place in late summer 2011. Approximately 120 students from across Canada and around the world met in Ottawa, Ont., before heading off to Reykjavik, Iceland. Seven other Newfoundlanders participated.

"It was really interesting to see the different cultural perspectives on environmental issues," said Mr. Gardiner. "For example, there was a dominant Inuit presence on the trip, with 40 of the 120 students being from the Canadian North. It brought home the idea that they were interested in more than just preserving their culture. The changes that are happening to the environment now are impacting their current way of life. It's not about something that happened a long time ago to an old way of life. These impacts are happening right now. That was a big "a-ha" moment for me."

Along with the students were approximately 60 of "the most qualified educators" Mr. Gardiner says he has ever met, including researchers from areas like botany, geology and oceanography, who designed daily workshops for the students.
"Not only was there a lot of science going on, but there were also artists, songwriters, poets, playwrights and storytellers on the trip," he said. "It was a neat package of science, culture and the arts."

The experience continues to affect him as he still tries to find opportunities to inform other students and government leaders about the trip and its impacts. It has even influenced the types of university courses he's selecting.

"I don't think I'll ever be finished with the program," said Mr. Gardiner. "It changes you. People in this world have to decide if they will accept that the natural world is not this faraway place. Every thing we do, everywhere we do it, changes and becomes a part of the natural world. We either have to find a balance and establish a niche for ourselves, like so many other species, or fade
out of earth's biological mosaic. This is a powerful reason to save the earth. To save the earth is to save the people on it."