Cayman photographer charts Arctic change

Chunks of ice crashing from an enormous glacier, the Arctic sun low over the horizon, a polar bear, big eyed and curious, staring out from the thin edge of the pack ice. 

The series of images taken by Cayman Islands-based photographer Ellen Cuylaerts aim to show the beauty and fragility of a region in the midst of seismic change. 

Ms. Cuylaerts and her husband, filmmaker Michael Maes, and their two children, were part of an expedition to Norway, Iceland and Greenland earlier this month. 

The Elysium Artists for the Arctic expedition, featuring 60 of the world’s leading artists, marine scientists, photographers and filmmakers, aimed to document life at the extreme end of the Earth and draw attention to the threat posed by climate change. 

Ms. Cuylaerts’s images and Mr. Maes’s footage will be part of a documentary movie and exhibition, opening in Australia next year. 

She hopes the project will encourage more people to care about global warming. 

The team, aboard the MV Polar Pioneer, a Finnish ice-strengthened research vessel specially charted for the expedition, traveled through fjords to remote parts of Greenland to photograph wildlife, including walruses and arctic hares. The group even jumped into the frigid water to snorkel amid the icebergs and hike, with armed guides, amid the icy landscape. 

The most impressive sight though were the polar bears. 

“I actually first saw a little dot of fur on the horizon, swimming towards us. He was so curious, he smelled the cooking on the boat. He swam towards us and climbed on to the ice. We were about five meters away,” said Ms. Cuylaerts. 

She said the expedition also stopped at a remote Inuit village, where people still hunt and live off the land. 

“I think it is important to draw a distinction between hunting for necessity, like this, and hunting for fun or tradition,” she said. 

The village, only accessible during the summer when boats can journey up the fjord, is one of the most remote communities on Earth. 

Rubbing shoulders with world famous divers, photographers and artists was another highlight. 

“What made the expedition great was, of course, the wildlife, but the inspiration we got from each other. 

“We were all there for the same reason – because we care about how to spread the message without pointing the finger. We want to take a positive approach and bring the story that would be the most valuable.” The expedition was orchestrated by photographer Michael Aw, director of Ocean Geographic Society, who co-led the trip alongside Mission Blue founder and National Geographic Explorer in Residence Dr. Sylvia Earle and photographers David Doubilet, Jennifer Hayes and Ernie Brooks. 

A halo forms around the sun as it drops over the horizon.

Michael Maes

Michael Maes captured video footage that will be used in a documentary on climate change.

Greenland is magic

The landscapes in Greenland wee “out of this world” according to photographer Ellen Cuylaerts.

Ellen Cuylaerts and the kids

Photographer Ellen Cuylaerts, left, with her daughter Margaux and son Max.

Mother & calf

A walrus and calf frolick on the sea ice.

year ice

A snorkeler’s perspective on the arctic pack ice.

On thin ice

On thin ice: A curious polar bear came incredibly close to the expedition boat. – PHOTOS: ELLEN CUYLAERTS


A chunk of ice breaks off from a glacier, crashing into the iceberg-filled water.

Polar bear taking break from meal

A polar bear takes a break from devouring a seal carcass to pose for the camera.