Pen Hadow, the Shaftesbury-based Arctic explorer and environmental campaigner, will tell locals why a North Pole marine park must be established during talks in both Fontmell Magna and Donhead St Andrew this spring.
Pen Hadow knows the North Pole – and not many people can make that claim. He is the only person to solo-trek from Canada to the Geographic North Pole, carrying all of his provisions with him. And in summer 2017, Pen led the first boat expedition without icebreakers into waters surrounding the Geographic North Pole.
“I’ve probably spent more time than anybody ever travelling across the sea ice of the central Arctic Ocean, an area of international waters, in the last 25 years or so,” said Pen. He has acted as a guide, as an adventurer and as an explorer. “I realise I have a social responsibility because I know what is going on up there. Most people don’t. They haven’t seen, felt and heard it. I need to tell people what’s going on. They need to know.”
Most people will never journey so near to the North Pole, an area that might seem distant and divorced from life in North Dorset or South Wiltshire. “There is so much to know and understand about the region. What goes on up there is directly relevant to how life is down here,” said Pen.
That why he founded the 90º North Unit, which is dedicated to preserving the wildlife and floating ice-reef ecosystem in the Arctic Ocean’s international waters. His organisation aims to raise awareness of the danger to this environment from climate change. And they want action. They want a marine reserve established.
Pen has witnessed and reported the effects of climate change on this area. His 2017 Arctic Mission used two 50ft sailing vessels to journey 300 miles deep into previously impassable areas, now navigable because of the melting ice. In the summer, 40% of ice is no longer there.
“When you hear about sea ice loss, what you are hearing about is the habitat loss,” explained Pen. “I understand what animals are there. I understand why we should start thinking about protecting this environment. There is a unique ecosystem involving some animals that people know about, but just didn’t realise depend on sea ice.”
During his two Shaftesbury area talks, Pen will explain how the North Pole zone is ‘rammed with life’ from the smallest forms of plankton to Greenland sharks. That mammal’s survival is threatened by an extension of commercial fishing as vessels move further into previously unnavigable areas of the ice. The species could be lost as the female sharks don’t reach their reproductive peak until they are around 150 years old. The death of just a few sharks could prove devastating.
Commercial shipping companies are also eyeing up more direct international routes through the Arctic. They can now travel to Rotterdam and New York, through the Bering Strait, from the Pacific Rim countries quicker than by using the Suez or Panama canals. Mineral extraction companies are also investigating potential.
Pen wants three million square kilometres of the Arctic declared a no-go zone, except for scientific research. “My rest-of-life mission is to catalyse the process by which the international community that are involved in conservation policy will create, probably through an international treaty, the world’s largest wildlife reserve for the area of international waters that surround the North Pole. It’s an area about the size of the Mediterranean Sea,” he said.
This reserve would offer environmental protections. Pen wants the status achieved within the next ten years to send a clear signal to younger campaigners. “It will be a symbol for the next generation that my generation is taking this issue of sustainability in the bigger sense. We realise that we can’t do what we want, when we want, in the way that we want, if we are to keep the whole system running to support us and the rest of life. The two are inextricably linked.”
If the area around the North Pole gains International Reserve status, Pen says other important areas of the oceans could follow. “Nearly 50% of the world’s surface is in international waters and, to date, it has not been possible to protect any of it,” said Pen. “Creating the North Pole Marine Reserve will have pioneered the policy-making process. It’ll make it much more possible for up to 50% of the surface of the planet to be protected. If we can do this relatively small area around the top of the planet, it opens the door to protect and conserve nearly half of our planet and that’s exciting and motivating for me.”
Pen understands that the international nature of the North Pole means that his project is ‘fearsomely complex’. But he shrugs off that challenge by saying that he can’t help that. “There are many nation-states, including those that are based in the region and others far beyond, including superpowers like China, USA and Russia in the mix as well. It can’t get much more complicated. My role is not to create an international treaty. I can’t do that as an individual. My role is to make more of the relevant players aware of the need and the scientific case to conserve this area and to project the vision of what the solution is,” said Pen.
Pen’s talk, ‘It’s Not All White at the North Pole’, will be held at Fontmell Magna Village Hall at 7.30pm on Friday 6th March. Doors open at 7pm for refreshments and visitor admission is £2.
His second talk is at 6pm on Saturday 4th April at St Andrew’s Church in Donhead St Andrew. Tickets cost £10, or £5 for students, with money going towards the church’s new south aisle zinc roof, following the theft of the previous lead roof last autumn. Tickets are available from Jane Hill on 01747 828279 and there will be a bar.