Balancing shipping opportunities with a healthy Arctic future
Shipping brings impacts like noise, collisions, and potential risks from oil spills; these impacts are experienced most directly by the whales that share these Arctic waters – including narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales.
© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada
Managing riskEven in the summer (so-called ‘open water’) season, conditions are harsh, search and rescue capacity is limited, and support infrastructure is relatively scarce in Arctic waters, so it’s critically important to avoid accidents and spills. Ships need to use the best information, the best practices and the latest technology to avoid or minimize the disruption of wildlife, the introduction of invasive species and the release of pollutants. Regular monitoring is needed to assess these impacts, and revise practices where necessary.
The Arctic will see more ship traffic; that much is certain. The question is what measures, precautions, regulations, and best practices will be in place to address environment and safety concerns, so as to maximize the benefits of development for northern peoples who rely on healthy Arctic ecosystems.
Supply ships in the Inuit community of Clyde River (also known as Kangiqtugaapik), Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. © Peter Ewins / WWF-Canada
Navigating Safe and Sustainable Arctic ShippingGrowth in Canadian Arctic shipping traffic won’t be dramatic or sudden, but it will steadily increase over the coming years, driven largely by the mining sector. Shipping is important for all current and future economic development in the region, and we have an opportunity to manage the inherent risks of this growth today, while shipping in the Canadian Arctic is still relatively low compared to other regions. Good standards and practices, if implemented today, will see benefit for decades to come by helping to ensure responsible Arctic development for decades to come.
What WWF is doingWWF is working to better understand potential environmental and social impacts of shipping on the Arctic environment and communities. We have completed an oil spill trajectory modeling project that maps out multiple oil spills, including those resulting from shipping, and how these spills could interact with important areas for communities, wildlife and ecosystems. Explore the risks of oil spills in the Beaufort Sea at arcticspills.wwf.ca.
We are also engaging the shipping industry in discussions at the International Maritime Organization to create a Polar Code for Arctic Shipping and, at the same time, are supporting an ongoing dialogue about best practices in Arctic shipping to benefit northern communities while protecting the fragile Arctic environment.
Manager, Oceans & Arctic
Ship noise and narwhal
Learn more about narwhal
Shipping and marine mammals
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Best Practices for Arctic Shipping
Read the full report
The Polar Code
To be effective, the code must be mandatory, must include all ships navigating in Arctic waters, and must be updated regularly. It must require ice-strengthened hulls, measures to avoid harm to Arctic ecosystems and species, qualified on-board ice navigators, and capacity to participate in search and rescue and spill response operations.
Safe and sustainable Arctic shipping
Download our factsheet.