With pressure to drill, what should be saved in the Arctic?

Jeremy Hance
April 27, 2011

Map showing the 13 most vulnerable areas in the Arctic marine environment. Photo: IUCN/NRDC. Click image to enlarge.

Two major threats face the Arctic: the first is global climate change, which is warming the Arctic twice as fast the global average; the second is industrial expansion into untouched areas. The oil industry is exploring new areas in the Arctic, which they could not have reached before without anthropogenic climate change melting the region’s summer ice; but, of course, the Arctic wouldn't be warming without a hundred years of massive emissions from this very same industry, thus creating a positive feedback loop that is likely to wholly transform the Arctic. In addition, new shipping routes and greater fishing pressure are expected in recently accessible areas. Now, a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have selected 13 areas of Arctic they argue deserve protection given their ecological importance and vulnerability.

"There is increasing interest in expanded economic activities in the Arctic," Thomas L. Laughlin, Deputy Head of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Program, said in a press release. "The information and maps we have available now will allow governments and the international community to make the right choices regarding the conservation and use of the natural resources of the Arctic."

In total the report finds 77 areas that deserve consideration for protection, however it points to 13 that especially stand out. These 13 sites include: St. Lawrence Island, Bering Strait, and Wrangell Island, the Chukchi Beaufort Coast, Beaufort Coast/Cape Bathurst, Polar Pack Refugium, Lancaster Sound/North Water Polynya, Disko Bay/Store Hellefiskebanke, White Sea/Barents Sea Coast, Pechora Sea/Kara Gate, Novaya Zemlya, High Arctic Islands and Shelf, and the Great Siberian Polynya.

The Arctic wide report was crafted during a workshop last year involved 34 scientists and representatives from Arctic indigenous communities.

"We have a short window of opportunity to plan for industrial development in a way that respects and protects important and fragile ocean places, wildlife and communities. As nations around the Arctic plan new offshore oil development, fishing and shipping, this report jumpstarts the process of identifying areas that should be considered for protection from the environmental consequences of those activities, including oil spills, pollution, and habitat degradation," Lisa Speer, Director of the International Oceans Program at NRDC, said.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (April 27, 2011).

With pressure to drill, what should be saved in the Arctic?.