Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge is located in the High Arctic, an environmentally fragile area. Due to the lodge’s location, we are keenly aware of the sensitive nature of the land and wildlife that surround us, and strive to make as little impact as possible.
Our airstrip has been designed to decrease impact on the surrounding environment, we maintain a system of trails to prevent scarring the land, and we take care to ensure our sewage and garbage is handled in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
We have seen drastic changes in the Arctic climate, especially in the last few years, and keep visitors to a minimum so as not to disturb the local ecosystem.
We have observed a difference in the climate over the fourteen summers we have spent at Arctic Watch.
Summer temperatures are now considerably warmer, particularly in early July. We do not need to dress as warmly as we did in previous years. We used to have snow every summer, occasionally several times; now it a rare event. We used to wear down jackets and winter work gloves. Now a lightweight jacket and summer gloves are sufficient. The permafrost layer around Arctic Watch is now deeper in the soil. During the last couple of summers, we have been visited by southern birds such as Sand Hill cranes. In 2009, for the first time ever, there were mosquitoes at Arctic Watch for two days. The environment is also drier than it was ten years ago. Our trails have far fewer wet spots than in past years.
For many years, the refrigerator at Arctic Watch was a walk-in insulated box resting on the ground. Each summer, we would occasionally throw some snow on the floor. In the last few years, it became increasingly difficult to keep the temperature cool enough. In 2010, we had to purchase an electric refrigeration unit in order to keep the box sufficiently cold. The day we plugged in the unit, the temperature in the fridge was 14C!
During the last few summers, staff and guests have often swam in the river. This was unthinkable in the early years.
Twenty years ago, during the winter, the ice in the Northwest Passage between Arctic Watch and Resolute would freeze at least two metres thick. In 2007, we barely succeeded in driving our bulldozer from Resolute to Arctic Watch. Our minimum thickness required was 70cm (30 inches). During the last two winters there has been no ice between Arctic Watch and Resolute Bay.
On Somerset Island we are observers. During the summer, we share the land with the wildlife. Our goal is not to disturb their habitat or disrupt their activities. Through the Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation, our long-term goal is to establish some measure of protection for the whales.
The maximum number of guests at Arctic Watch is approximately 22 people per week. This is the maximum number of people we feel the land can support and the maximum number of people we feel we can take on to the land without disturbing the wildlife.
The airstrip at Arctic Watch is built on a lease from the federal government. Planned as an airstrip when Arctic Watch was first established in 1992, it is located in the delta of the Cunningham River and was constructed by levelling a 3,500 foot gravel strip. Since the river is continuously changing its course across the delta, nothing on it is permanent. It is safe to assume that at some point, the river will move through the airstrip and it will no longer exist. Nature will take care of our airstrip. We try to return the favour. For example, in order not to disturb the whales, none our flights fly over the mouth of the Cunningham River.
From Arctic Watch Lodge, we have a system of trails that make it possible to access different locations of interest, such as interesting canyons or muskox habitats. To prevent scarring of the land, all motorized vehicles must remain on our trail system. These trails are marked with inukshuks and are maintained by our staff.
Black sewage is mulched and deposited in a small lagoon, which measures approximately four by two metres. The sewage naturally breaks down. We have two of these small lagoons. It takes about six or seven years to fill one lagoon, by which time the first lagoon is ready for use again. Happily, there is a noticeable increase in the native plants that grow just downhill from the sewage lagoons.
Grey water is currently filtered then pumped out of the camp and across a specially prepared bed where it evaporates and is absorbed back into the gravel. We use environmentally friendly products for cleaning.
Metal, glass, plastic and non-burnable garbage is packaged and returned to Yellowknife or Resolute.
All burnable garbage is burnt in our incinerator, which is powered by compressed air. This incinerator produces higher temperatures to burn waste more efficiently than simple passive burning.
The federal government makes yearly inspections to ensure that all our systems conform to environmental standards.