Google imaging Kangiqsujuaq, Quebec is like looking at something out of a frozen fairytale. Kangiqsujuaq is a Northern village in Nunavik, or Nord-du-Quebec, Canada with a tiny population of just about 605 people. “Kangiqsujuaq” means “the large bay” in Inuktitut as the community is known as Wakeham bay which provides the indigenous people with great livelihood.

While eight months of the year the flat bay freezes solid beneath a silvery bank of ice and snow, the Inuit have found ways to survive in such extreme conditions. The dangerous setting drives just about every other form of wildlife away but the Inuit are able to hunt seal, caribou, whale, and fish throughout the year. However, there pride and joy is harvesting mussels beneath the ice.


Gathering Mussels

In the most frigid of the cold months, when the ice is the thickest, the Inuit are able to harvest mussels underneath the ice. You are probably wondering how this is even possible and I have to say it is pretty incredible. During this time frame, when mussel harvesting is at its best, roughly every two weeks the attraction of the moon combines with the geography of the region to create quite unusual tidal patterns. These tides are so large from the gravitational pull that the water in the bay can fall as much as 55 feet during a single tide shift. This tidal movement of course can empty the bay in some parts for an hour or even more allowing Inuit or anyone else who dares to burrow beneath the ice for quite a bounty of mussels.


Following two Inuit men to mussels

In a recent article in the New York Times, author Craig S. Smith tags along with two Inuit men on their quest for mussels in the bay. The men’s names are Tiisi Qisiiq, 51, and Adami Alaku, 61. The men used snow mobiles to ride through the low tide and search for a good spot to cut through the ice. It did not take them long to burrow their way underneath the ice to w a world of luminosity not like anything else on this planet. I am only looking through photos, which I am sure do not do it justice, but the sight is hypnotizing. Once below the surface the men ventured into a cavern of bending ice, faded blue from the sunlight above them. Smith mentions during his trip it was about 20 degree below zero Fahrenheit outside but beneath the ice it was a much warmer, humid 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once, in the freshly cut cavern the men lowered themselves to the floor of the bay the men used lamps to find their way. They were faced with kelp, a few crab, lots and lots of roe (fish eggs) from the fourhorn sculpin nicknamed “the ugly fish” by the Inuit. Of course the men were there for the meaty, plump blue mussels that were plentifully disturbed throughout the bay floor attached to the rocks. Smith recalls the men used nothing but their bare hands to pull the frigid mussels from the rocks.

The men gathered until they heard the sound of many pops and ticks of changing ice which meant the tide was returning back to the bay. It was their cue to leave, since as the tide shifts the bay will soon regain the sea water lifting the ice on the bay filling the cavern.  It is important they move quickly as the tide or “flood” time can start slowly but begin to increase speed to about a foot a minute.

Watch the amazing video experience here.


Dangers of a changing environment

Throughout time the harvesting of the blue mussels in the bay in Kangiqsujuaq has changed drastically. Mr. Qisiiq’s reflects on learning the event from his mentor Lukasi Nappaaluk as a boy. He remembers entering caverns of ice 20 feet deep with grand ice ceilings. That is clearly not the case today.

Rising ocean and climate temperatures thanks to global warming are having a monumental impact on ice. The once sturdy deep caverns are now less predictable and more likely to collapse making the gathering of mussels a risky business. The warmer water currents are thinning the ice from below and making it incredibly more difficult to cross by the Inuit’s main way of transportation; snowmobile.

While there is much debate on the subject of global warming, one thing is for certain: human existence is the main contributor.  Pollution and the burning of fossil fuels are two major problems that we can blame no one but ourselves. There are SO many ways to help slow the process of global warming and aid pollution and many of them are really easy.

Examples: next time you go to the grocery store, skip plastic; Car pool ; Use a reusable water bottle ALWAYS; walk don’t drive; skip a straw etc.

The ocean needs us to change or it will never be the same.  It is easy to make small steps to change the future, so get started!


References and photos courtesy of: