Dive under the ice with this Nunavut clam digger

Nunavut clam digger Sammy Qappik takes CBC on a trip underwater.

Qikiqtarjuaq’s Sammy Qappik has been diving for 17 years

Qikiqtarjuak clam diver takes CBC under the ice. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Sammy Qappik cuts a hole in the ice with a chainsaw and dives into the water.

It's February, and he's on the hunt for clams outside the Baffin Island community of Qikiqtarjuaq.

Sometimes Qappik is underwater for 30 to 40 minutes at the time, with the aid of his Scuba gear.

"You have to watch your breathing," he said in Inuktitut.

"And it is dangerous, I always have to be alert."

Qappik moved to Qikiqtarjuaq from Pangnirtung in 1993, and started diving in 2001.

He says he got into clam digging because an opportunity came up for him to learn, and he keeps at it because he enjoys the experience.

Underwater diver Sammy Qappik digs for clams in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut

4 years ago
Duration 2:17
Underwater diver Sammy Qappik shows CBC how he digs for clams in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut. 2:17

"The bottom of the ocean varies from one area to another," he said.

"It's just like when you're enjoying being out hunting, it's good for the mind."

Sometimes when he's underwater he'll see other wildlife, such as seals.

Submerging himself deep enough to reach the ocean floor can be a struggle in the wintertime, he says. The Arctic temperatures and high salinity increase his body's buoyancy in the water.

But when he gets there, the bounty is littered across the seabed.

"The clams are still alive even in the frozen mud," he said.

"I sweep off the mud and wait a few seconds for it to clear up and pick the clams and put them in a netted bag."

If people are buying, he'll go down two, sometimes three, times. He also tends to reserve some of his catch to give away to elders in the community.

"These are the freshest and cleanest clams in the world," he said.

With files from Eva Michael