He Saw the Melting Arctic Ice First Hand. Now He’s Speaking Up to Protect It.
Spotlight on MAPS Ambassador Rituraj Phukan
I live in Assam, an early “climate-impacted” province in India. I grew up in the middle of civil unrest due to the illegal immigration of displaced people, and this set the stage for my work to mitigate the crisis that India, and the entire world, is facing today. I know that the future could be much worse as no boundary fence or security force can prevent the mass influx of refugees from vulnerable low-lying countries, with disastrous humanitarian consequences. There are other implications for my region too, with continuous riverbank erosion and increasingly frequent floods attributed to erratic rainfall as well as the accelerated melting of the Himalayan glaciers.
In 2013, I participated in the International Antarctic Expedition and the epic journey changed my life forever. Soon after, I stepped out of my comfort zone to engage with rural communities on the 3 W’s: Warming, Water and Wildlife. Working in remote areas with water stressed communities and those affected by man-animal conflict has given me valuable insights about effective grassroots impacts that “Think Global and Act Local.”
I had been reading about “Arctic amplification”, the cause and effects of the loss of Arctic ice and implications for global weather, people and biodiversity, when I was introduced to Parvati.org and the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS). I realized right away that MAPS is the immediate and effective response the world needs to the global ecological and humanitarian crisis we face today. As a MAPS Ambassador, I encourage everyone I meet to join the movement to realize MAPS now.
Earlier this year, Robert Swan, the first man to have walked to both the poles, invited me to travel to the Arctic to gain firsthand experience of the melting ice. From Oslo, the Climate Force Arctic (CFA) team comprising 86 scientists, naturalists, corporate leaders, writers, filmmakers, civil society leaders and other experts from 27 countries reached Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost town, which is located at only 800 miles from the North Pole. At Longyearbyen, Norway, the CFA team boarded the National Geographic Explorer expedition ship.
It was disconcerting to learn that the Svalbard archipelago in Norway has warmed by over 5 degrees Celsius in the past 20 years, threatening the lifestyles of the local people and the biodiversity of the region. The CFA team learned about the changing dynamics of predator and prey interactions in the warming Arctic ecosystems from wildlife biologists with decades of research in the polar regions.
I gave a presentation about MAPS to the CFA team—something I had been invited to do by Darcy Belanger, the Director of Strategic Initiatives for Parvati.org. But before the CFA expedition began, Darcy died on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, en route to the United Nations Environment Assembly in Kenya. This tragic event made it an incredibly emotional moment for all when I delivered the presentation as a tribute to Darcy.
Scientists say the entire Arctic region could be free of sea ice during the summer by 2030. During our visit, we saw several islands where the ice cover was at a record low. Animals like the seals, walruses and polar bears were facing survival threats because of the loss of sea ice. Several of the fjords had ice-free spaces, and we were told that the volume of ice had shrunk considerably every year.
The Arctic ice cools our planet and regulates weather patterns; what happens in the Arctic affects us all. The evidence is clear that the accelerated melting of polar ice is already changing global weather with an unfolding humanitarian crisis with floods, droughts, famine and rising sea levels all over the world.
The predicted disruption of the South Asian monsoon due to the accelerated melting of sea ice could be catastrophic for India, which is already facing extreme weather and an unprecedented water crisis. I feel ever more determined that MAPS is the response that the planet needs immediately.
Rituraj Phukan is an environmental writer and nature conservation mentor based in Assam, a biodiversity-rich, climate-impacted province in the far east of India. A commerce graduate, he quit his government job to begin a lifelong engagement with nature: travelling, writing and teaching students about the environment.