Sunday, 31 July 2011

Monaco Glacier and Moffen Island

Sometimes the best thing about Expedition Cruising is simply to jump into a small boat and go exploring.  On a largish vessel like Fram one might not think that would be a possibility, but it most definitely is!  This morning at 09:00 we were anchored off of a very large and beautiful glacier called Monaco Glacier (Monacobreen).  At 09:30 we put the Polar Cirkel boats in the water and went for a cruise along the glacier face.  We cruised along the entire terminus of the glacier.  Five kilometres of brilliant blue ice!
Polar Cirkel boats pushing an ice floe away from the tenderpit 
Along the way our guides talked about icebergs and glaciers and even about the birds we could see all around us.  There were Kittiwakes and Glaucous Gulls in abundance as well as Black Guillemots, Arctic Terns, Northern Fulmars and the occasional Arctic Skua.  A lot of the birds fed along the face of the glacier where the fresh water outflow met the salty sea water.  Large and small chunks of ice would occasionally calve.  When this happened the birds would flock to where the ice disturbed the water.

Monaco Glacier and Polar Cirkel boat, Spitsbergen
Closeup of a small iceberg with Monaco Glacier in the background

Walruses at Moffen Island Spitsbergen (Photo ©Karsten Bidstrup)

In the afternoon we set our course for Moffen Island which would be the most northerly point of our journey. It would take several hours to to get there so we used the opportunity to slot in several lectures on ice and geology.
Moffen Island is a protected nature reserve situated just above 80˚ N.  That is very far north indeed.  To quote a friend of mine, “if you had a globe of the earth you would need to look under the brass cap at the top to find Moffen Island.”
Shortly after 17:00 we approached the tiny island. It was barely above sea level and seemed no more than a sand bar.  However, this low, flat piece of sand and gravel is very important as a Walrus haul-out and is also an important nesting site for Arctic Terns.  Indeed, we counted between sixty and seventy Walruses in three groups packed tightly together.
Well! This was a cause to celebrate.  Not only did we have excellent views of one of the most extraordinary of all pinnipeds but we had crossed 80˚ North at the same time!