High Arctic protected area deserves government support | WWF-Canada

High Arctic protected area deserves government support

Posted on 23 November 2017
Two walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) resting on ice. Foxe Basin, Nunavut, Canada.
Two walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) resting on ice. Foxe Basin, Nunavut, Canada.
© naturepl.com / Eric Baccega / WWF
IQALUIT, Nov. 23, 2017 – The government of Canada should support today’s recommendation from the Pikialasorsuaq Commission that Canada, Greenland and Denmark work together to create an Inuit-identified and Inuit-managed protected area in an ecologically and culturally significant region of the High Arctic. 
Pikialasorsuaq is the West Greenlandic name for the North Water polynya, an area of historically open water teeming with marine life that depend on the upwelling of nutrients caused by ocean and wind currents in that location. Pikialasorsuaq is the largest polynya in the Arctic and the most biologically productive region north of the Arctic Circle. It is critical habitat for many migratory species, and has supported Inuit for millennia. 
Wildlife that rely on the North Water polynya include: 
  • Whales, such as belugas and narwhals 
  • Fish, such as Arctic char 
  • Seabirds, such as little auks (alle alle), eiders and kittiwakes 
  • Sealsincluding the bearded and hooded variety 
  • Other mammals that polar bears depend on for food 
The commission is led by Inuit from Greenland and Canadaand in its first major report, People of the Ice Bridge: The Future of Pikialasorsuaq, made the following recommendations for the conservation and management of the region: 
  • Establish a management regime led by Inuit representatives from communities in the Pikialasorsuaq region. 
  • In consultation with communities adjacent to the Pikialasorsuaq, identify a protected area comprised of the polynya itself and a larger management zone that reflects the connection between communities, their natural resources and the polynya. It would be monitored and managed by Inuit in agreement with all parties and formally recognized by governments. 
  • Establish a free travel zone for Inuit across the Pikialasorsuaq region. 
David Miller, president and CEO of WWF-Canada, says: 
World Wildlife Fund Canada encourages the governments of Canada, and Denmark and Greenland, to fully implement the recommendations outlined in this report as a key step toward protecting this critical habitat and toward reconciliation with Canada’s Inuit. The Inuit protected area recommendations – including provisions to allow for the free travel of Inuit in the region – would bring to life the vision that Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada’s special representative Mary Simon outlined in her report A New Shared Arctic Leadership Model. 
About Mary Simon’s report: 
That report outlines the importance of ambitious conservation goals set within the context of sustainable development. It states that Arctic leaders must be involved in major decisions. She envisions a shift that reflects policy “with the North,” not “for the North.” The Pikialasorsuaq Commission’s work is a concrete example of this kind of shared leadership. 
Paul Crowley, head of Arctic conservation for WWF-Canada, says: 
As residents of the High Arctic who depend on the bounty of the Pikialasorsuaq for their food, clothing, livelihood and cultural identity, Inuit are best positioned to manage the protection of this region. And as sea ice melts and shipping increases, the level of urgency increases. Inuit need to be equipped now with the legislative tools that will enable them to ensure the long-term health of this ecosystem for wildlife and communities.”  
Why Pikialasorsuaq is so significant: 
  • Pikialasorsuaq, which means “great upwelling,” is the West Greenlandic name of the North water polynya shared by Canada and Greenland. 
  • Polynyas are areas of open water that remain ice-free throughout the winter due to ocean and wind currents. They are incredibly rich, diverse areas teeming with marine life, in part because of the upwelling of nutrient-rich waters. 
  • Pikialasorsuaq is threatened by rapid change in the region, including climatic and environmental change, increased shipping, tourism, oil and gas exploration, and development. Recently, the northern ice bridge that influences the formation of the polynya has become less stable. 
  • Pikialasorsuaq is near the heart of the Last Ice Area, that area of the Arctic that will be a refuge for animals who live on or near sea ice. 
  • For more, see the Pikialasorsuaq Atlaswhich has mapped data on population, important cultural locations, trails, marine mammals, fish, birds, sea-ice change and current routes for non-traditional activities including cargo, tanker, icebreaker, fishing, research and passenger shipping. 
About World Wildlife Fund Canada 
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit wwf.ca. 
For further information 
Sarah MacWhirtersenior manager, strategic communications, smacwhirter@wwfcanada.org, +1 416-347-1894 
Two walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) resting on ice. Foxe Basin, Nunavut, Canada.
Two walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) resting on ice. Foxe Basin, Nunavut, Canada.
© naturepl.com / Eric Baccega / WWF Enlarge