Category: Blog Post

Embarking on a Decade for Ocean Health and Sustainable Development

We know the ocean economy is projected to grow to $3T by 2030, and as someone who spends a lot of time focused on the ocean opportunity and Canada’s leadership in it, it is clear that achieving balance is critically important when developing our country’s greatest asset. With several recent studies highlighting the current risks facing oceans worldwide and the tipping points that are approaching, our collective success in developing our ocean economy means focusing on both the wealth and health of oceans, not as separate objectives, but as one.

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development will kick off in 2021 and run until year-end in 2030. It is meant to “support efforts to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health and gather ocean stakeholders worldwide behind a common framework that will ensure ocean science can fully support countries in creating improved conditions for sustainable development of the Ocean.” This is dedicated effort to help address one of the single most important issues in the decade ahead, and our ability to do so successfully will impact us all. CBC’s Brett Ruskin covered this story recently as preparations for the ocean decade activities came to Atlantic Canada.

 

As the UN is busily preparing for the decade-long focus on ocean health and wealth, the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO is not only building the portfolio of decade programs but will also play an on-going role in implementing them. Canada has stepped up and committed an additional $9.5M to support the activities of the decade.

To build this portfolio, the IOC is gathering input from the scientific community through various workshops. I was asked to participate in the North Atlantic workshop led by the Ocean Frontier Institute and supported by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Halifax at the beginning of January – other workshops include Norway, Brazil and Tokyo, exciting for Atlantic Canada to be on this list.

The input was focused on six key societal objectives: clean ocean; healthy and resilient ocean; predicted ocean; safe ocean; sustainably harvested and productive ocean; and a transparent and accessible ocean.

The discussions also included “cross-cutting themes,” topics that touch on all of the objectives and these included: capacity building and tech transfer; partnerships and financing; access to info; data and knowledge; awareness raising; and inclusivity and transdisciplinary.

There were over 150 participants from all over the North Atlantic – including the UK, Norway, Canada, US, Cape Verde, Germany and France. Not only was I asked to attend the session, I was asked to be a co-convener (essentially a facilitator) for the discussion around the societal objective of a transparent and accessible ocean. One way to ensure I pay attention is to put me at the front of the room! Having never attended this type of scientific gathering before, I was assured that my other co-convener would have lots of experience and he certainly did. Martin Visbeck, a professor in physical oceanography at GEOMAR in Germany had a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience and is a member of the Expert Planning Group responsible for advising on the implementation plan for the UN Decade of Ocean.  Despite many differences in culture, background and approach, we made it work – a true transatlantic collaboration. We facilitated two rounds of six-hour discussions on our topic with groups of approximately 15 and 25 and then reported out on the top three areas of recommendations from the combined results of the group. It was a lot of work and there were lots of interesting results and actions that can start now for the North Atlantic community, although there will be a more formal report that pulls together the input from the multiple sessions held.

My three takeaways:

❶ It is hard to navigate the ocean community and understand everything that is being done. I was introduced to more organizational acronyms than I could possibly retain and there is no easy place to go to be able to understand how their mandates fit together and where the gaps might be. These types of meetings are hugely beneficial in sharing information on current activities and hopefully there will continue to be an increasing focus on tools that allow knowledge sharing and an on-going commitment to do so.

❷ While there is a general agreement that the actions of any one nation on the Atlantic Ocean impact the entire Atlantic Ocean community, it is not easy to work together internationally. There are customs challenges in moving equipment from country to country, and there are still lots of pockets of resistance and/or barriers to sharing data to be able to maximize its potential in supporting current and future decision making. It is critical to think about how we reward the right behaviors when it comes to collaboration on an international scale.

❸ We need to be as inclusive as possible as we build the approach for the decade. While there was some representation from the Indigenous community, other disciplines, the NGO community, and industry at the meeting, there is more to be done to ensure we do link the science to supporting sustainable development. Educating the general public on their relationship to the ocean whether or not they live in a coastal community is another critical component to the conversation. It is not just about producing the science but also how we make that information accessible to the various audiences. Hopefully, this is one of a series of conversations to come as we continue to think about the activities that Canada can play a key role in driving forward.

It is rare to have a week to spend with international colleagues talking about the challenges and opportunities that we have in the next decade to influence the future of our ocean and with that the future of our ocean industries and our communities. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

2020 – Activation and Momentum at Canada’s Ocean Supercluster

Anyone close to me knows that I am a bit of a perfectionist. For me it is always easy to look back at the year gone by and identify the things I might have done differently, but as I reflect on 2019, my first full year with Canada’s Ocean Supercluster (OSC), there is much to be proud of and even more to look forward to in 2020.

As 2019 started, the OSC felt very much like a start-up – which was exciting, incredibly busy, and meant wearing a lot of different hats for a while. We had no full-time staff and the organization was in the process of opening its first bank account. We had signed our contribution agreement with the federal government seven weeks prior to the end of 2018 but we had several other documents to complete for Ministerial approval that were all at various stages of review. We had no systems, processes or policies, and at the beginning of the calendar year any temporary staff we had, including myself, were working on their personal computers. We had an interim steering group and only six board members. There was no formal membership and no projects. What we did have was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for the journey ahead and anticipation throughout the region for what we were trying to do.

Fast forward to the end of 2019 and there is a great deal to celebrate. We have established most of our infrastructure – our team, which we continue to grow, our processes; including our project selection guidance, IP and data strategy, our first Annual General Meeting and an almost full Board, our membership agreement and by-laws with over 130 members by the end of the year, an active project pipeline for both technology leadership and innovation ecosystem projects and a new member portal, claims management system, and website to come early in the new year. We held our first marquis cluster building event with over 400 people at the Halifax Convention Centre in March followed by our first members-only event at the Cunard Centre in November with 135 people. We have significantly increased the awareness throughout Canada and the world on what is happening in Atlantic Canada and the hard work that is being done to establish this region as one of the key places to build an ocean technology company.

But most of all, we started to see a shift in mindset in Atlantic Canada and across Canada, with the help of the other four superclusters, towards Canadian and regional collaboration and its importance in increasing our global competitiveness. I hear story after story of organizations that had never spoken before or thought to do business together, that after having the opportunity to share ideas at one of our events, are now developing project ideas for the OSC and also seeking out other non-supercluster opportunities together – which is an even more powerful story. The OSC’s objective is to strengthen our ocean innovation ecosystem well beyond the programs of the Ocean Supercluster itself and we have certainly seen an increase in the ocean conversation and ocean activities in 2019 that will position us very well as we head into 2020.

So why am I so excited about 2020? This is a critical year for the OSC, and I believe much of what we have seeded in 2019 will position us to take full advantage of the opportunity in 2020:

  • We will see significant technology leadership and innovation ecosystem projects start to kick-off in the first half of 2020. This will help build the momentum for further project pipeline activity and strengthen the ocean ecosystem.
  • We will deepen the ocean conversation with more frequent, smaller events throughout the region that will take a deeper dive into specific topics of common interest and continue to create opportunities to further build and strengthen relationships.
  • We will identify opportunities to work with organizations throughout the region that are thinking about capacity building with a focus on inclusiveness to develop new approaches to building the skill sets and identifying the resources that we need to deliver on OSC projects now and in the future and grow the overall ocean economy in Canada.
  • We will continue to identify strategic opportunities to profile the OSC internationally including the Oceanology International conference in London and Transfiere in Spain.
  • We will continue to build awareness and momentum around the ocean opportunity for Canadians. You will see lots of information-sharing and communication around our projects and activities to help Canadians understand our role and potential as an ocean nation.

The Ocean Supercluster faced many challenges in 2019 as we got up and running, and we will continue to tackle challenges in 2020. Changing culture is hard work but incredibly important for the future of the region and the country. I firmly believe this change in mindset will be important not only to the growth of the ocean economy but will also have spillover effects in the broader Atlantic Canadian and Canadian economy. I am tremendously lucky and proud to have such a hard-working, dedicated and passionate OSC team as we head into 2020 supported by a strong, committed Board of Directors – together with all of our partners and members, I know we will do great things. I wish you all the very best in 2020!

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean. -Ryunosuke Satoro

Diversity and Inclusion – It’s Everyone’s Opportunity

When people look back at this time in history, it’s my hope that it’s one that is defined by the important strides made around diversity and inclusion. While this is a broad topic that extends beyond my usual focus on the ocean economy, I want to share my experiences from the past few weeks that included a wealth of perspectives from leaders, across a number of platforms, that are worth considering.

And yes, there is a link to ocean. I’ll get to that, but as a start I will say diversity and inclusion is an opportunity for us all, including ocean industries, and it takes leadership to help make it happen.

Last month I had the chance to listen to leaders who have done so much to add volume to the issues of diversity and inclusion. While in Toronto, this included the rare opportunity to listen to the stories of a tremendous line-up of speakers: Her Excellency Julie Payette (Governor General of Canada); the Right Honourable Kim Campbell (former Prime Minister of Canada); Dr. Frances Arnold (Nobel prize winner in chemistry); Dr. Donna Strickland (Nobel prize winner in physics); Pat Mitchell (media executive and author); Debra McGrath (Canadian actress) and her daughter, Kinley Mochrie; and Jess Herbst (politician from Texas and transgender rights activist).

I also had the honour of hearing President Barack Obama speak. He was in Atlantic Canada to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council, with stops in St. John’s and Halifax, where he delivered an empowering message to the many thousands in attendance. First talking about the importance of focusing on what you want to do rather than who you want to be, the President reflected on not having set out in life to become President and yet, the roles he took on over the course of his career, including entering politics, were for the purpose of achieving his goal to make things better. He encouraged the future generation to use their purchasing power for good, rewarding corporately responsible behavior and walking away from companies that are not positively contributing to our future. Finally, he spoke about climate change, calling it the biggest challenge currently facing humanity and the need to achieve global cooperation to develop the urgently required solutions. And in the context of it all, he reminded us to be empathetic to the reality an individual is facing before passing judgment on their view of the world.

The conference that brought me to Toronto earlier in the month was organized by the International Women’s Forum (IWF), an organization focused on promoting gender equality and women in leadership and included 1,100 women from all over the world. I joined IWF-Atlantic Chapter about five years ago and have had the opportunity to participate in events around the world celebrating the successes of women and challenging each other to do more.

The theme of the conference was Open Minds and touched on topics including artificial intelligence, cannabis, inclusion, and waste management. Dr. Donna Strickland, who won the Nobel prize for her laser technology, and Dr. Frances Arnold, who won for innovation through evolution both spoke about how challenging it can be as a woman in their respective professions but how important it is to stay true to what you believe in – a message also delivered by the President during his stops in Atlantic Canada. Her Excellency Julie Payette, echoed by others, said she looked forward to the day when we have so many women being recognized for their achievements that we stop counting.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #5 is focused on how gender equality is a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. World Oceans Day this year, June 8th, was focused on the theme of promoting gender equality in all ocean-related activities. When we look at the ocean economy, the voice of women is considered essential to both producing and protecting the ocean. Yet, women are underrepresented in maritime industries, and in ocean managerial roles the percentage of women drops even further. I have attended several ocean conferences since I started my role last year and it has been my experience that women are generally outnumbered. However, I do want to point to an encouraging statistic coming out of our own recent Ocean Supercluster event where approximately 35 per cent of attendees were women.

Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is focused on building a diverse and inclusive ocean economy. And while there is a clear focus on achieving this, there is much work to be done. In the Atlantic region, there are lots of great things happening that help build technology skills which are also critical to supporting the digitization of our ocean:

·      Irving Shipbuilding is creating career opportunities for African Nova Scotians at Halifax Shipyard;

·      Ulnooweg is building STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills in over 10,000 indigenous youth. This strengthens the foundation for these youth to build the technology companies of the future including ocean tech companies; and

·      Genesis Centre has established a Women in Tech Peer Group to bring together women in technology in Newfoundland and Labrador and is focused on boosting the retention and advancement of women.

*Please feel free to share any other technology skills learning opportunities happening across the country in the comments section of this article.

My three takeaways:

❶ The world is facing wicked problems. It will take every one of us with different genders, ethnicities, backgrounds and skill sets to develop globally relevant solutions.

❷ It will take focused activities to achieve the diverse and inclusive ocean economy that we need to succeed – it will not just happen organically.

❸ The ocean economy has incredible potential to become more diverse and inclusive. It creates opportunities for so many including: local communities who rely on the fisheries; large and small businesses building the ocean tech solutions of the future; indigenous communities who have sustainably lived off the sea for thousands of years; research scientists identifying new species; and women looking to build their future – this is incredibly exciting!

Ocean Exchange Awards Showcase Tremendous Innovation and Passion for Building Ocean Solutions

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate as a judge at the Ocean Exchange in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The Ocean Exchange’s mission is to help advance adoption of solutions in the field of sustainability. They focus on solutions with working prototypes that reduce waste and the use of nature’s resources while increasing productivity and respecting cultures around the world. The event was held in conjunction with the Fort Lauderdale International Boat show for the first time. It was held near the marina and there were spectacular boats arriving throughout the week.

The Ocean Exchange gives away three awards over the course of the two days. The first is a collegiate award, the Broward College Innovation Award of $10,000, given to one of eight teams pitching at the event. This year’s prize went to Celise BioProducts for developing affordable plant-based disposable product solutions like straws and cups. What is incredible about the Ocean Exchange audience is that it includes several investors who are committed to help all the finalists succeed – not just those that ultimately win the prizes. As a result, lots of follow-up opportunities are created for many of the presenters with innovative solutions to ocean challenges.

The other two non-dilutive awards, the Neptune award and the Orcelle award, are funded through sponsorships at a value of $100,000 each. The Neptune award is given to the company that advances our understanding of the ocean resulting in more resilient bodies of water. The winner this year was Opus 12, a solution that recycles CO2 emissions into chemical products. The Orcelle award, sponsored by Wallenius Wilhelmsen, is awarded to the company that advances high-efficiency or zero emissions technologies. This year’s winner was Noon Energy Inc for developing a new technology for low cost energy storage.

Throughout the two days, past participants also presented on how their companies are progressing and growing. These included ECOncrete, offering environmentally friendly concrete solutions, and Onvector, building water treatment capability leveraging plasma technology.

The awards were presented at a gala event on the final night. What was amazing to me, other than the strong attendance and the celebration of the success of the winners of course, was the centerpieces which included live jelly fish. This was a fitting choice, given the same warming and acidification of the ocean that is leading to a general decrease in fish biomass, is also causing jellyfish to thrive. Funded by the European Union, a project called GoJelly is currently underway to develop new applications for jellyfish including using them as a source of food and as a potential solution to efficiently recover microplastics.

My takeaways:

❶  There is tremendous passion for building solutions that address the many challenges in the ocean, particularly amongst the many students I met at this event. These presentations and discussions reinforced the importance of understanding what is already happening before building a solution that already exists somewhere else.

❷  Being connected is critical. The world is increasingly becoming a global market and the participants at this event demonstrated that. It is important for our Canadian companies to engage not only with others in Canada but also in the rest of the world to identify collaborators and opportunities.

❸  There were no Canadian finalists this year (although there have been in the past). This stands out as an opportunity – and I really hope to see a change in that next year!

Producing and Protecting Ocean Resources – Shared International Interests, A Canadian Opportunity

Last week, I had my first ever trip to Oslo. It was a busy ocean-focused week. I first attended the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy Advisory Network meeting. The High-Level Panel is led by 14 world leaders who recognize that economic production and ocean protection are interlinked and are developing solutions that address both the health and wealth of the ocean. We were provided with updates from various committees including an update on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Cryosphere report, which includes devastating findings around CO2 absorption and ocean acidification, warming water temperatures and sea level rise. There is still much to be done and not a lot of time to reverse the current trajectory of the ocean. The High-Level Panel’s report: The Ocean as a Solution for Climate Change was also discussed. In that report, five key measures could contribute up to a 21 per cent decrease in the impacts of climate change. The panel encouraged the audience to think about the ocean as an active part of the solution, not just as a victim, and even more importantly, to listen to the science.

 

On Wednesday and Thursday, I attended Our Ocean, a conference that was organized to build partnerships and knowledge to learn, share and act for a clean, healthy and productive ocean. The conference included government leaders, large and small businesses, research institutions and NGOs sharing the steps they are taking to protect the ocean including the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg and the Crown Prince, Haakon Magnus. Many discussed the trade-off between ocean productivity and protection, and humanity’s responsibility to consider both if we want to bring our ocean back into balance.

There were several innovation talks throughout the two days. Companies from around the world presented their solutions to help protect the ocean, leveraging new technologies, and the business opportunities they represent. These included:

·      Aquaii – United States company saving the seas through fish-as-a-service.

·      Corvus Energy – Energy storage company started in Vancouver 2009 and moved head office to Norway in 2019.

·      Ocean Sun – Norwegian company that builds solar power on floating membranes.

·      Ellipsis – UK company using machine learning for plastics tracking.

·      Ocean Visuals – Norwegian company with lasers in the subsea to detect hydrocarbons and phytoplankton.

There were several other events happening in tandem as part of the conference. The first was jointly organized by Bloomberg Philanthropies and REVOcean. The CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies spoke about her understanding that only one per cent of philanthropic spending is on ocean despite that fact that it covers two-thirds of the planet. Bloomberg announced that it will be leveraging its tracking capability in conjunction with Global Fish Watch through the Bloomberg Terminal to allow more transparency around the location of fishing vessels and climate change information with the intent of driving more investment towards responsible actors.

REVOcean also asked me to participate in a financing panel to share the OSC approach and the opportunities in Canada. It was a panel of five women, a relatively rare event in the ocean space. The panel included Nordea and Asia Development Bank who talked about sustainable finance as well as the current trends and opportunities in ocean. In addition to myself, the panel also included RevOcean and the Katapult Accelerator, an accelerator focused on investing in impact-driven companies aiming to solve global challenges.

Friday, I spent the day meeting various organizations and gaining a greater understanding of the Norwegian ecosystem. I was very lucky with the weather that allowed me to walk around the city and explore the beautiful architecture as I moved between events.

My key takeaways:

❶  There are lots of similarities between Canada and Norway. Several I met commented on the easy cultural fit between organizations in the two countries. There is definitely more opportunity for organizations to work together and lots of interest in doing so.

❷  Governance when it comes to the ocean is a challenge for many countries. No one government department typically overseas all ocean activity which makes it difficult to develop coordinated solutions to ocean challenges. The OSC is working to help align ocean initiatives where we can to maximize impact while minimizing duplication.

❸  There are tremendous opportunities for Canadian companies to build solutions to produce and protect ocean resources, but the time is NOW. The ocean economy is growing fast and we need to be part of the solutions that impact our coastline; with the longest coastline in the world, we have much to gain but also much to lose.

48 Hours in NYC – Sea-ing Rapid Growth in Blue Tech & Emerging Investment Opportunity

In early October, I had the opportunity to participate in the first-ever SeaAhead conference in New York. SeaAhead is an organization launched in May 2018 to catalyze the intersection of innovation, sustainability and the ocean. Based in Boston, their focus is to work with startups and help them find financing, as well as increase the overall interest in the ocean by multiple domains to ensure the most diversity of thought possible to challenges and opportunities. One of the members of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, Ashored, is currently participating at SeaAhead and Innovacorp is one of their partners. This is a clear example of how new connections with Atlantic Canada are already starting to grow!

One of the key objectives of the conference was to help the investor community see the incredible opportunities in Blue Tech as, currently, the industry does not have a sufficient investor base to be as successful as it could be. This aligns with one of the challenges of the OSC – access to smart capital, and we were certainly happy to weigh in on this discussion.

We had a great warm-up to the conference with a visit to NewLab where we toured the space and heard presentations from several companies in various stages of development. NewLab was established in 2016 and is based in a repurposed building from 1902 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard – the machine shop for every major ship constructed during World War I and II. The space includes over 100 companies and 700 entrepreneurs, and while it does not focus exclusively on ocean, its location attracts many ocean companies. Beyond its incredible history, NewLab has created a place that inspires innovation with several designers as early tenants who helped create amazing spaces. When it comes to testing technology, the Navy yard provides opportunities that would require permits anywhere off Navy grounds. And, for transportation and ease of access, there is an autonomous shuttle service that runs from NewLab to the ferry terminal regularly.

Back at the conference, things kicked off with a presentation from Victor Vescovo, an American Entrepreneur who ran the five-deeps project, the first manned expedition to the deepest point of the five oceans. In August 2019, he completed his mission. Each descent included a scientist who collected various specimens as well as significant amounts of data throughout the water column. His plan is to provide the data he collected open source on the website, once available, to allow others to build on his work.

Ayana Johnson, Founder of the Ocean Collectiv spoke about her work and focus on solutions for a healthy ocean. More specifically, she spoke on coastal resiliency and the importance of planning ahead for the challenges we face with sea level rise. Today, there are 2.4 billion people in the world living within 100km of the coast, and it’s critical to help those not living in coastal communities understand this is an issue that will impact us all.

Key areas of expected growth in Blue Tech were a focus of discussion including examples of the regulatory changes that are impacting the shipping industry: air emissions, invasive species, and noise reduction. A great deal of discussion was also centered on the significant expected growth in offshore wind with a projected $300 billion in investment and an increase of 10GW to US wind energy capacity in the next decade.

The SeaAhead conference also provided companies with the opportunity to present 5-minute innovator flash talks, and included:

·      Marauder Robotics – the Roomba for ocean restoration.

·      Ocean Hugger Food – replacing sushi tuna and eel with plant-based alternatives.

·      Seatrec – creating electricity from temperature differences.

·      Knip Bio – high quality protein for sustainable aquaculture.

In addition, several panels throughout the day focused on the need and importance of increasing investment in Blue Tech and we heard from those with various ocean investment portfolios including Everhope Capital, Schmidt Marine Technology Partners and Closed Loop Partners.

Finally, I had the opportunity to participate on a panel with US-based Cambridge Innovation Centre and Singapore-based Heron Advisory discussing international perspectives on how clusters and accelerators can support new ventures. While all models are not the same, the importance of collaboration and multiple perspectives was a common theme throughout. This panel was facilitated by UN Global Compact who also spoke briefly about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. While the main focus on ocean falls under Goal #14: Life Below Water, ocean is a critical component to success in achieving many of the other goals outlined and shown below:

In the evening, there was a wonderful cocktail reception on the Peace Boat, a Japanese based organization promoting peace, human rights and sustainability since 1983. They have a single passenger ship that travels the world immersing their passengers in an understanding of sustainability issues and providing education at the various ports they visit. They are currently working on their vision of the Ecoship, pushing the cruise ship industry to a more sustainable design.

This was a very busy but tremendous 48 hours in NYC, and here are my key take-a-ways:

❶  The number of players in Blue Tech is increasing fast.

For Canada to be the leader it wants to be in the Ocean Tech space, we need to move fast, too.

❷  The investment interest in Blue Tech is also increasing.

Now is the time to build a technology company with an ocean focus! There is still work to do on education, but the interest is there and so is the understanding of how important it is to build our ocean economy in a sustainable way.

❸  It takes all of us.

We need to bring non-traditional domain expertise to the challenges and opportunities facing the ocean and continue to work together in new ways. This will not just take collaboration across Canada but with partners throughout the world.

A Civilian at Sea – Experiencing the Arctic with the RCN

I recently had the honour of being invited to participate in the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) Canadian Leaders at Sea program. This program is designed to help Canadian civilian leaders gain a greater appreciation for life at sea and all that the RCN does to serve and protect our country. As the daughter of military parents, with both an uncle and grandfather who were in the Navy and a father who served as petty officer on a Navy ship, this was not only a rare opportunity for a civilian but one that was near and dear to my heart. The fact that I had the opportunity to experience this program in the Artic made me feel that much luckier.

On August 17th, I boarded the plane to Iqaluit and then to Pond Inlet, Nunavut, a small community at the northern tip of Baffin Island. Given a last minute scheduling change that resulted in a lack of accommodation, the RCMP were kind enough to let us use one of their houses for a couple of nights while we waited for the HMCS Ville de Quebec to arrive. I was on site safe and sound, had a place to stay, but one thing was missing – my luggage! And while my stress level was on the rise wondering how I was going to stay warm on a ship in the Arctic without my clothes, I was well taken care of until I was finally reunited with my luggage.

I was terribly mistaken when assuming I would be sitting idle for two days while waiting for the ship to arrive. Our Navy hosts had organized a full ground tour for us to experience Pond Inlet before boarding the ship. We met with the municipality, the park ranger, the RCMP, dined at the Sauniq Hotel and had the opportunity to watch a local cultural show. One of the highlights for me was meeting a group of young people that are part of a group called Ikaarvik – which means “bridge” in Inuktitut. This group is committed to leveraging both Inuit Knowledge and science to solve local challenges in their community. It was a true inspiration to learn more about their ideas and their demonstrated commitment.While I have heard of the challenges of living in the North, you don’t quite appreciate their impact until you experience it first-hand. I was lucky to be there in 24 hours of daylight, and I can only imagine what life is like in 24 hours of darkness. The challenges of food security and high infrastructure costs, accessibility to good education and medical care as well as the impact of climate change on day to day living are all a part of reality in this part of the country.Increased traffic from cruise ships and leisure craft as well as other commercial activity present opportunities that also come with challenges for communities like Pond Inlet. With growing activity by several foreign nations along our borders, this reinforces the important role played by both the RCN and the Canadian Coast Guard. I got just a glimpse into life in Pond Inlet but was touched by the sense of community, shared struggles and connection to place.

On August 19th, we boarded the ship. There were nine of us participating in class #4 and two of us were women. We were taken to our room. There were a couple of personnel already asleep, so we worked very hard to stay quiet and get our stuff into our lockers. There were three bunk beds on either side, and we were assigned the middle bunks. I will say it has been a long time since I was in a bunk bed and don’t believe I mastered the art of getting in and out by the end of my five days – I likely banged just about every part of my body on the top, bottom or sides at some point. I admire all those aboard the ship that are able to make it their home – I spoke to several who had been at sea over 200 days a year on average for over a decade. This takes a toll on family life and the commanding officer and leadership team work hard to create a sense of family on the ship. It is certainly a lifestyle that is not for everyone but all I spoke to were very proud to serve.
For the next five days, we experienced life aboard the ship. We were treated to a royal tour of the ship’s activities. The group was lucky to be able to spend so much time on the bridge where the commanding officer and crew were extremely accommodating in explaining the purpose of the tasks they were performing and reminding us of little things like closing the doors behind us so they did not slam back and hit anyone. We fired guns (ensuring we avoided whales and other wildlife), tried the scuba gear (which weighed over 80 lbs.), and avoided getting lost in the smoke room in full firefighting gear through the use of an infrared scanner. The crew explained how they board other ships, the engineering room, the operations room, the sick bay and many other areas. I even participated in Tai chi and one physical training session on the back of the ship – there was no need to embarrass myself a second time but certainly a unique experience to be jogging on the flight deck of a warship looking at icebergs on both sides.We were very well fed. The galley staff ensure a steady flow of good food: breakfast, soup, lunch and dinner. Our menu included ribs, steak, chicken cordon bleu, poutine, fish, salad, shepherd’s pie and many other dishes that would satisfy even the heartiest of appetites. I will admit that I did not always choose them, but there were healthier options for every meal.

We also had several presentations on the future of the Navy fleet, the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, the various roles the Navy plays at home and abroad, the challenges in the North, and the need to both innovate and focus on recruiting differently for a new generation. One of the highlights for me was a fireside chat with a few of the women onboard. Kudos to the Navy as we heard stories of opportunity and amazing experiences despite women representing only 13 per cent of those on the ship. The commanding officer has clearly created a supportive environment where many feel they can excel. There were few stories of challenges although it is clear that some bias still exists in the Navy overall, not unlike elsewhere that can impede a woman’s ability to reach her maximum potential.If you can adapt to the lifestyle, the Navy provides unique opportunities for individuals and they train you with amazing skills while traveling around the world. I was perhaps most amazed by those that had chosen the Navy as a second career. An opportunity to develop themselves in a way that their first career perhaps did not.

We spent most of our time at sea and we were blessed with very calm seas. Our experience of significant movement of the ship was only when it was performing exercises, so we were all lucky to avoid motion sickness. We did have the opportunity to stop for a few hours in Nuuk, Greenland, and had both a presentation from a Danish commander on the increased activity and new challenges in the arctic and a small tour – such a large land mass to protect with a small population. We finished our trip in Iqaluit with one final reminder of the challenges and blessings of life in the North before we boarded our planes home.

While Navy life is certainly not for me, I appreciated the opportunity to learn and to experience life at sea and particularly in the North. The dedication and hard work of those aboard RCN ships as our Canadian ambassadors around the world was humbling to see. We have a beautiful country and we need to do all that we can to keep it safe and this includes from environmental threats which are increasing as the Arctic continues to experience higher temperatures – receding glaciers and melting permafrost are of high concern as a result.

This is not an adventure I will soon forget. A huge thank you to the Royal Canadian Navy for the unforgettable experience I had in the Arctic aboard the Ville de Quebec and for all that you do to protect our country.