Snorkeling in the Arctic

All-female team hopes to empower young women with expedition

Published on July 11, 2014
Ruby Banwait shows the drysuits the expedition team will use to avoid hypothermia in the frigid waters during a snorkeling expedition to the Arctic. All members of the team are female.
— Photo by Laura Howells/Special to The Telegram

An all-female team kicked off a 15-day snorkeling expedition from Nain to Greenland Thursday.

The Sedna Epic Expedition will research the effects of climate change in the Arctic Ocean, while providing educational outreach to Inuit communities.

“This trip is a call to action for the world to understand what’s going on in the Arctic with respect to ocean change and disappearing sea ice, and we’ll do that through education and awareness,” said Sedna founder Susan R. Eaton.

“The purpose of the trip is to document what’s going on in the Arctic, and the best way to document it, from our perspective, is to swim the Arctic.”

Test mission

The trip is a test-mission for a 100-day expedition planned for 2016, when the team will snorkel the entire 3,000 kilometres of the Northwest Passage — a feat that has never been accomplished.

Eaton made a conscious choice to recruit an all-female team.

“All these women are used to going on expeditions and being the only woman on the team,” she said. “People have been asking me why it’s an all-women team, and I say, ‘Because we can do it and why shouldn’t we?’”

The team is composed of 10  women from New Zealand, Mexico, Canada, and the United States, and each will contribute something different to the mission.

Young women need to see exceptional role models

Among them are award-winning divers and scientists, and there’s also an Emmy-winning videographer, submersible pilot, journalist and physician, plus other careers and skill sets. While they will educate people in the communities they visit, they particularly hope to engage and inspire young girls.

“We’re all pioneers in our own way, but I think that we were all engaged and empowered by people that were pivotal in our lives,” said Eaton.

“I think that a lot of girls need that one role model. Maybe it’s a teacher. Maybe it’s your mother. Maybe it’s meeting us in the community. But I think that lots of young women need to see women doing things that are exceptional and then they’ll be inspired to continue on their route.”

Eaton says there are still social barriers and stigmas young women must face, barriers she hopes her team can encourage and help girls to overcome.

“Young girls, before they hit puberty, are full-speed ahead. But once they hit those teen years some of them become disempowered. They stop doing well at math, they stop doing well at science, and very few of them go on into what are still considered to be unconventional fields …, ” said Eaton.

“We want to inspire girls to do whatever they want to do, and show them that there should be no boundaries.

“Success for us would be that a young woman in one of these Inuit communities says, ‘I want to be a journalist,’ ‘I want to be a movie maker,’ ‘I want to be an Earth scientist.’ We present role models to them and hopefully they’re inspired to continue on with their studies in whatever field it may be.”

In preparation for the expedition, submersible pilot Erika Bergman built underwater remotely operated vehicles with 13- and 14-year-old girls in Washington State.

“I taught them electronics, programming and piloting skills,” said Bergman.

“Everything that I picked up over the last five years as a submarine pilot I have shared with girls in Washington State, and now the girls that built this are going to be connected to the girls in the Arctic that are going to pilot it.”

As part of their educational outreach, the Sedna team will help communities see what lies beneath their waters through catch-and-release mobile aquariums, modelled on the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium.

The idea was brought to the team through Sedna’s chief scientific diver, Ruby Banwait, who was critical in opening the Mini Aquarium last year.

“Actually having people see and touch animals first hand really leads to curiosity, which leads to caring, which hopefully will lead to conservation,” she said.

The team launched its expedition at the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium Thursday.

The women will document their journey online at as well as on Facebook and Twitter. They are looking for fundraising help through Indiegogo.