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Staples Junior Braves the Arctic

Staples junior Brian Hershey is only 16, but he's already visited 50 countries. Recently, the world traveler spent a week in Churchill , Manitoba – a community in the Canadian arctic also known as "the polar bear capital of the world."

Brian won the third annual Arctic Leadership Camp Competition, an essay contest sponsored by Gault Energy and Polar Bears International , and spent Oct.10-16 in Churchill, where he studied polar bears and climate change with scientists and 17 other students from around the world.

"We spent the first night in Winnepeg, two nights in Churchill and then maybe three days and two nights out in the middle of nowhere on the Tundra Buggy Lodge ," the Westport student said. "When we were out in the middle of the tundra, we would take a tundra buggy to the mouth of Hudson Bay and the Churchill River: That's significant because it's where fresh and salt water are mixing, and all the polar bears go there."

There the group would observe polar bear behavior and talk about the species' bear biology and how it's changing due to the changing tundra environment. But all observing was done from within the 10-foot high buggy, Brian said.

"If you're on the ground with them, they'll kill you," Brian said. "I'd say the closest I got was two-feet away, face-to-face."

But that was just one of many trip highlights. Brian also got to see the Northern Lights and form bonds with students from different countries. But his most memorable experience was meeting an Inuit woman named Betty who has worked as an animal trapper since she was 8-years-old.

Brian described his Churchill stay as an "incredible experience" that left him inspired and eager to start on a project he and his fellow arctic travelers came up with: reaching out to get local businesses to reduce their carbon footprint by 5 percent each year.

"It's not naïve to think if we all put in our effort, even if it's a small effort, we really can make a significant difference," Brian said. "Don't think that just because you're doing something little, it's not important. You have to step back and see the big picture."

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